“The Process” Can’t Be Trusted

I don’t think most white folks will get it – why black folks are so distrustful of police officers, law enforcement in general, and “the process.”

I have listened to people talk about how black people need to let “the process” work in the Michael Brown shooting.  They cannot understand why it is black people in general do not seem interested one bit in doing that.

They cannot – or will not – understand that “the process” has never worked for black people.

At this point, Officer Darren Wilson has been protected. That’s “the process.” The case is before a grand jury. That’s “the process.” There has been an attempt to smear Michael Brown’s character, even as Officer Wilson has been protected. That’s to let the public know that whatever Wilson did, the force he used was not excessive, but “justified,” as Wilson was “in fear for his life.”

That’s “the process.”

In this nation, “the process” has been so often skewed against black people. In spite of the Constitution saying that all Americans are due a trial with a jury of their peers, few black people have had that. No, so often, all-white juries have been assigned to cases involving black people, and too often have rendered a “guilty” verdict, in spite of evidence that has been fraught with problems, or in spite of prosecutors and/or judges who have let racial prejudice be the driver in their presentations, rather than a quest for justice.

Henry McCollom and his brother, Leon Brown, sat for 30 years in prisons in North Carolina for a murder they did not commit. DNA evidence proving they had nothing to do with the murders – something they said from the beginning – but their lives are basically gone, thanks to “the process.”  (http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-death-row-inmates-released-mccollum-brown-20140903-story.html).

When Emmett Till was murdered, his murderers were arrested, yes, but an all-white jury acquitted them. The jury took less than an hour to acquit Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam …and they were so arrogant that they gave a complete confession to LIFE Magazine after they were set free. “The process” cleared them to go on with their lives.

“The process” has been responsible for seeing young African-Americans hauled off to prison with long sentences for things white kids get away with. Our jails are filled with non-violent, primarily African-American men and women. “The process” obviously worked against them.

In cases where black people have been killed by police officers, those officers have been more often than not let go. One of the officers who was involved in the shooting death of John Crawford III in Beavercreek, Ohio at the beginning of August is already back on the job. George Zimmerman is free. It took forever for “the process” to even think that Zimmerman needed to be arrested. The “Central Park Five” were swept into the process and convicted of a crime they didn’t commit. They maintained their innocence from the beginning,  but those who helped sustain “the process” pushed them through as though they were guilty nonetheless.

“The process” does that frequently when it comes to black people. Those who support “the process” seem to believe that black people are guilty unless someone can prove otherwise. They assume that if a black person is accused of wrongdoing, he or she is probably guilty. “The process” then works to put “the guilty” away.

That means that oftentimes, the killers of black people go free, or that those accused of bothering a white person get put away. In the case of Trayvon Martin, “the process” made it easy to show that Martin was a criminal who deserved what he got.  George Zimmerman is free. Meanwhile,  Marissa Alexander, who killed nobody but merely fired warning shots to fend off her abusive husband, faces up to 60 years in prison for what she did. “The process” has not leaned in her favor at all.

So, you’ll excuse us, world, if we cannot trust “the process.” From the beginning of this Mike Brown tragedy, “the system” has worked to make sure “the process” protects the police officer while it vilifies the victim. That’s what “the process” has historically done with black people.

A candid observation …


George and Trayvon …and Justice

Trayvon Martin Protest - Sanford
Trayvon Martin Protest – Sanford (Photo credit: werthmedia)



OK. What is self-defense?


In the George Zimmerman trial, the defense is that George shot Trayvon Martin in self-defense. One witness last week said that Trayvon was on top of George Zimmerman. Proof, they say, that the horrific outcome of their encounter was self-defense.


But this is where I get stuck.


How can the incident have been self defense for George Zimmerman when it is HE who apparently followed Trayvon, in spite of being told by police not to do that?  Did he get out of his car and approach Trayvon, or did Trayvon go over to his car and confront him? If  Trayvon did that, then maybe we can say George was acting in self-defense.


But, unless I’ve missed it, nobody has said that. In fact, nobody has said how it is that George and Trayvon got into their encounter! Trayvon wasn’t shot and found at the side of George’s car. The pair was found on the grass. If Trayvon was on top, couldn’t that be indicative of Trayvon having had to fight for his life?


Though the criticism of Rachel Jeantel has been met with mixed reviews, and though her appearance in court was unpolished and unsophisticated, her testimony was consistent and honest. This young woman, it seems, would have had no problem saying that Trayvon encountered George, at his car. Her testimony, to the contrary, has her saying to Trayvon, “run!”  From what I’ve read and heard so far, it just seems that George and Trayvon were fighting because George continued to follow Trayvon and finally, got out of his car. One wonders if that happened if Trayvon turned toward what was his father’s apartment, and George, fearing the teen was going to do something wrong, decided to stop him.


That some of the television defense attorneys seem so confident about this self-defense claim of Zimmerman is upsetting. There seems to be a great deal of disdain that the case became “political.” But the case begged closer examination from the start. In the history of law enforcement officers and black people, there have been far too many suspicious deaths and questionable arrests with no accountability from law enforcement. That ongoing reality in black, brown and poor neighborhoods has created a spirit of distrust of law enforcement …but in this case, it was law enforcement that told Zimmerman not to follow Trayvon, and it was a detective who wanted to arrest Zimmerman at the outset for manslaughter. In spite of the complaints that the case became “political,” it was a politicization that needed to happen. Zimmerman needed to be held accountable.


In the history of black people and the law, the latter has been woefully unjust. If one reads Michelle Alexander‘s The New Jim Crow, or reads the story of how Emmet Till‘s mother pressed for the world to see what the men who killed her son did, one gets a snippet of what has been a painful reality for black people. Historically, it didn’t matter that facts may have clearly indicated that a black person was innocent, or a law enforcement officer had clearly been wrong; blacks were declared guilty and sentenced to long prison terms or death; law enforcement officers went on doing what they had been doing. The system protected them, in a way no less heinous that the Catholic Church has protected priests who molested little boys. That is a hard reality, but a reality nonetheless. If one reads Slavery by Another Name it is again fascinating to see how black people were systematically criminalized as the Convict Lease System sought to have blacks continue to be available for hard labor, in spite of the fact that what was being done by law enforcement – in cahoots with industrial and agricultural enterprises – was illegal. Blacks do not cry salt-less tears; the pain wrought by being treated as criminals by a system which is supposed to mete out justice, is and has been, very real.


So, this case, in spite of the complaint of things being “political” needed to come to be. Trayvon’s parents demanded, rightfully so, that there be an arrest so that their son just didn’t disappear and be categorized as just another troubled, trouble-making black kid. Now, if this thing about self-defense can be clarified. Did Trayvon confront George at his car, or did Zimmerman get out of his car and confront Trayvon on the grass?


It is a small point, but one that will help some, like me, understand what really happened that evening. Without that, if Zimmerman is acquitted, there will be just another layer of hurt added to the already present history of hurt that black people have carried because of the injustice of the justice system when it comes to blacks.


That kind of hurt doesn’t go away. It represents a dream,deferred. The dream is that, in spite of racism, there can be justice for black people. Who was acting in self-defense, really? If we can get that cleared up, then maybe some of us who are not understanding how anyone can say that what has been described is or was a case of self-defense, can relax…and wait for justice.


A candid observation …



American Justice System Not Just for African-Americans

It’s hard for me to believe in the justice system in America.

The jury system has its good points, but juries have been wrong so often. I cannot shake the hunch that Troy Davis, executed last year, was innocent, but because a jury found him guilty, his fate was sealed. Before he ever got to the jury, though, he was a target in this American justice system which too often hones in on African-American males as “the” people who are always guilty, always to be wary of.

All one has to say is an African-American did something, and the “justice” system buys into the accusation. In the case of Trayvon Martin,  George Zimmerman’s claim that he acted in self-defense, despite the apparent evidence that he approached (stalked!) Trayvon, has resonated with people who are all too willing to too easily throw the book at African-Americans, throw them into jail, and throw the key to the jail away.

So many African-Americans, falsely accused or rightly arrested, are at the mercy of public defenders who too often seem not to care about the fate of their clients.Of course, many young offender, or those accused of offenses, do not help themselves by appearing in court dressed in sagging pants, bling, and other pieces of apparel that feed into stereotypes of who African-Americans are and what African-Americans do.

Everybody knows that it’s easy to get off, or at least get attention deflected from oneself, by pointing a finger at an African-American. Charles Stuart, the man who killed his pregnant wife and then blamed an anonymous black man, knew that, as did Susan Smith, the mother who drowned her two children but lied to the public, saying black men had done something to her children.

The fact of the matter is that, in America, we are still shackled by our past, our rabid, racist past, which will not go away. This country has been successful in setting up the prototype of the “bad black man,” and that image is a part of everybody’s psyche, black and white.

So, when a black and white person are in a skirmish, as in the case of  Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, in spite of what appears to be pretty clear-cut evidence that Zimmerman approached Martin, there is this huge pool of doubt that this young, 17-year-old African-American youth could have possibly been pure as the driven snow. George Zimmerman’s claim that he acted in self-defense feeds into the fears of too many, that another “bad black person” acted up again. The media has quietly changed the picture of Zimmerman and Martin, Zimmerman’s from a person in an orange jump suit, looking kind of mean, and Martin looking quite innocent, in a tee-shirt, to Zimmerman, smiling, in a suit and Martin in a wool skull-cap, no smile evident.

It is the feeding of racism and racial stereotypes. Zimmerman has been given a bad rap, supporters say.

Never mind that if Zimmerman had been black, and Martin, an unarmed white teen, that the story would be different. Zimmerman would have been arrested on the spot, charged at least with second degree murder, maybe even first degree murder. There would have been no credence given to a claim of self-defense, cuts on head notwithstanding. And there would have either been high bail – maybe $500,000, or no bail, not this paltry $150,000  amount set by the judge today.

At the end of the day, the American justice system has its strengths, but when it comes to treating African-Americans justly, it falls very short, and always has, with few, yet important exceptions. Just today, Judge Greg Weeks of Fayetteville commuted the sentence of Marcus Robinson to life imprisonment, saying that racial bias played a part in the severity of his sentence. Robinson was accused and convicted of killing a white man.

Those types of “admission” of racism within our justice system, however, are few and far in-between. African-Americans still cannot find peace or assurance that within our justice system, they will in fact find justice.

A candid observation …

Trayvon Martin Case: Something is Very Wrong

Trayvon Martin Protest - Sanford
Trayvon Martin Protest - Sanford (Photo credit: werthmedia)

I keep thinking that there is one point the Sanford, Florida police department apparently has not fully considered: that if George Zimmerman had not followed Trayvon Martin, and had not exited his vehicle to approach the young man, Trayvon would be alive today.

It still feels like Trayvon was standing his ground. He was being followed by, and then approached by someone he did not know, who had a gun. It is reasonable to believe that the young man, frightened, defended himself against what he thought was a sure and present danger.

How come that possibility has seemingly not been advanced by the police department? In all the press conferences I have seen, not once have I seen the police say that they are considering that possibility as well.

What we have, why this case has brought out so much rage, is another example of what appears to be the willingness on the part of law enforcement to  devalue the life of a young African-American– again. Florida and indeed many states have a long history of injustice when it has come to incidents involving whites and blacks, with white people being given the benefit of the doubt and being let free. Black people have historically been discarded, devalued, as it were, and there is a sense of rage based on a history of injustice.

Isabel Wilkerson, author of the book The Warmth of Other Suns, wrote an excellent piece for CNN yesterday, describing the historical wrongs done as concerns whites and blacks as concerns crime committed and justice served or not served. That injustice, or the fear of injustice, prompted many African-Americans to  leave the South, to migrate to the North and to the Midwest, in search of  jobs, surely, but also in search for a place where they might get more justice.

That has not necessarily been the case, and everyone who is an African-American knows it. The fact that George Zimmerman has not been arrested, and the apparent fact that the possibility that Trayvon Martin could very well have been standing his ground, promotes anger that comes from an historical reality. It is not at all surprising that details about Trayvon’s apparent multiple suspensions from school, and about how traces of marijuana were found in his book bag. There has to be a reason for what Zimmerman did and how he did it; how better to do that than to create an image of a troubled, violence-prone teen?

But in spite of whatever details about Trayvon are released, it still doesn’t assuage the anger of people who are wondering why – again – it feels like a white man will get away with killing an African-American. The details about Trayvon do not erase the apparent fact that the young man was apparently approached by Zimmerman, in spite of the fact that he had been told not to do that. The details do not justify Zimmerman getting out of his car and apparently approaching Trayvon.

Something is wrong here, and lots of people know it.

A candid observation…

African-American Males not Safe in America

When my son was little, people would stop, white people, I mean, and would say how cute he was.

He was cute. He still is…well, handsome, now, but when they would stop and proclaim how cute he was, I found myself thinking “yeah, as long as he’s little, he’s cute, but when he grows up, he’ll be just another black male.”  I resented what I knew to be true, but I would smile at the well-meaning people, and say “thank you.”

After all, he was cute.

When he went to a private school, he was one of two or three African-American boys in his third grade class. He had ADHD, and was frequently “in trouble” for being fidgety or disruptive. His third grade teacher seemed really not to like him, but I shrugged it off, thinking I was being overly sensitive.

But then one day, I ventured into his room. The students had behavior logs on their desks, and most had stars or stickers on their logs, but not my son. On his son, the teacher had drawn great big black “X’s, with the comment, “You are bad.” I was furious. I complained to the school administrators, who apologized profusely and said they were sure the teacher meant no harm.

Meant no harm? I talked with the mothers of the other two African-American boys and found out that this teacher had said to the three boys that they were a “gang.”  I remembered back when my son had asked what a gang was and I’d told him. He’d asked, “Is a gang bad?” And I said “yes,” never knowing that I was feeding into the message that his third grade teacher had given him, that he and his two African-American classmates were a “gang” and therefore, “bad.”

Then, there was the moment when I decided to put him on Ritalin. I fought it, but I was fighting a battle with school teachers who continually put him down, had low expectations, and labeled him as a behavior problem. I choked back tears when he got into my car after having taken the Ritalin for two days and said, “Mommy, for two years, I was bad. Now I’m good.”

It is important to say that I struggled to make sure I protected his spirit, strong-willed as he is. He is a brilliant young man, as he was a brilliant child. His spirit was his gift from God, and so I fought to protect it from those who sought to snuff it out. I shared with him how incredibly powerful his spirit was, and that he was to always remember that.

He was and is independent; he speaks his mind. I didn’t want him to lose those qualities, but I had to give him “the talk,” telling him how to act and react if he were ever stopped by police officers, telling him how he had to look out and be extra careful when he was out because he would always be more closely scrutinized. I told him not to hang out with kids who got into trouble, because if he was with a kid who got into trouble, he’d be picked up, too. I was working, even as he was a little boy, to save his life from the likes of people, who, when he was little, called him “cute.”

He graduated from high school with honors. He is a brilliant young man, and a talented writer and musician. He is still strong-willed and independent. He lives in New York and is doing “his thing.” And he is still alive and not in jail, thank God.

I thought about him, and have been thinking about him, as I have struggled with my feelings about what happened to Trayvon Martin. It is only by the grace of God that my son is alive and Trayvon is dead. I am getting angrier and angrier at America’s penchant for wielding injustice toward people of color, especially African-American males. I actually scoffed this morning when I heard a man on CNN say to the public to let justice run its course.

I don’t believe in American justice as pertains to African-Americans in general, and for African-American males in particular.

I wrote yesterday that racism is as American as is apple pie. It is especially noticeable when it comes to matters of justice. Our American history is peppered with tales of injustice in the lives of African-Americans, from the reality to slavery to the serious breaches of morality and ethical actions toward African-Americans once slavery no longer existed.

America has been the teacher to the world on how black people should be treated, so much so that not only in America, but everywhere, one would rather be anything but dark-skinned.

Walking hand-in-hand with racism has been white America’s arrogance, which has given a sense of entitlement and justification to treat African-Americans as sub-human and second-class citizens.

I am praying that George Zimmerman is arrested.  A young man is dead for doing nothing, and for being guilty of nothing other than being an African-American wearing a hoodie and therefore looking “suspicious.”  African-Americans, especially males, are not safe in America. Something is very, very wrong.

The Emancipation Proclamation was issued in the 19th century, but isn’t it unfortunate that in the 21st century, African-Americans are still held captive by racism and a justice system which has been anything but just for us? In fact, that justice system has been little more than a tool to put more and more African-Americans in new plantations called prisons …or in their graves.

It’s nice that white people thought my son was cute when he was little; I’ll bet they said the same thing about Trayvon when he was little, too. But cute little black boys are not safe in America, not once they grow up.

A candid observation…