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 …

Sandra Bland and the Perpetual Absence of Justice for Black People

This morning, I am mourning.

It is the day after Sandra Bland has been buried, and the police department in Hempstead, Texas, and other authorities, have decreed that Sandra killed herself. This 28-year-old black woman, who was about to begin a new life in a new job, has been tossed aside as a reject by the state. Her body, her talent, her very being was not worth saving and is apparently not worth the honor of a just investigation. To say her death was a suicide is easy; it is an “oh, well!” type of response which relieves the police from having to look further, dig deeper and perhaps own responsibility for the result of what happened after this young woman was arrested for something that clearly was not an arrestable offense.

I am in mourning, not just for Sandra, but for all of the other black people who have been likewise thrown away by the system called justice. I say it that way because it has not provided justice for black people in so many instances. I found myself thinking last night about the Constitution and how it is always lifted as the benchmark for all “right” decisions, and yet, the words of the U.S. Constitution, when it has clearly said that people are entitled to a trial with a jury of their peers, have so often been ignored when it has come to black people. So many times, too often, black people, many of them innocent of the crime for which they’ve been accused, have been tried by all-white juries, filled with people who have had disdain for black people and who had no regard for throwing them in prison and whenever possible, giving them the death penalty. Our justice system has allowed white people to kill or maim black people without fear of reprisal, while at the same time, historically, prevented black people from testifying against white people. No justice. No peace. None.

The police have been on the trails of black people since the days of slavery, when people could hunt down escaped black slaved and kill them if they felt like they wanted to. No reprisal. The Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793 and 1850 authorized governments to seize and return escaped slaves and meted out severe punishments for anyone who impeded their capture. (http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/fugitive-slave-acts) Though those laws were repealed, the spirit of those laws never died, and what police do today in their treatment of black people feels like those acts are still hovering over and inside the halls of justice everywhere in this country. Black people are no longer slaves, technically, but they are slaves in terms of how they are treated and regarded by the justice system.

I am in mourning.

I am mourning for the loss of Sandra and John and Trayvon and Jordan and Renisha and Michael and Freddie and so many others. I am mourning because they are gone and there has been no justice and I am mourning because their parents and loved ones have been left to fend for themselves as they manage their pain in light of the lack of justice. Could I handle it, were it one of my children who had been so unjustly dealt with by the justice system? I think not.

When Emmett Till was lynched, his mother gathered strength from somewhere I still cannot grasp in order to make the world deal with what had been done to him. .It is said that the people in Money. Mississippi wanted to just bury young Till’s body quickly in Mississippi but that Mamie said, “Oh, no.” She traveled to Mississippi and it is said that she could smell the stench of her son’s body as it lay in a local funeral home some blocks away as soon as she got off the train. She pulled strength …from somewhere. She marched to that funeral home and made herself look at her son’s mutilated and decomposing body. He was swollen and nearly unrecognizable as the young kid she had sent to see relatives …but she stood there and looked at him and recognized the ring of his dad he had put on before he left Chicago. She took her son back to Chicago and had an open casket and allowed the media to take pictures of her son as he lay there, because she wanted the world to see what “they had done” to her son. When the two men accused of the crime were put on trial, she traveled back to Mississippi and was in the court every day of their trial …and had to pull that strength …from somewhere …when they were acquitted.

No justice. No peace.

Black people are killed and have so often been said to have committed suicide. In working on a project with Ruby Sales of the SpiritHouse Project, I read report after report of black people who ended up dead while in police custody and so many of the reports said the victims had committed suicide. I had to stop periodically and, as my grandmother would say, “gather myself,” because the tears would not stop flowing. They were tears of pain, of anger and of incredulity. The justice system offered these reports as truth, and expected parents and family to just accept their words as truth. How could they? How could they offer such insulting explanations and expect us to just get over it and accept it …and move on?

There’s a reason the chant is “no justice, no peace,” and that’s because for anyone, when there is no justice, there is no peace. Fred Goldman, whose son, Ronald Goldman O.J. Simpson was accused of murdering, had no peace when Simpson was acquitted. The nation had no peace, and has no peace, as the killer of Jon Benet has not been apprehended. No justice. No peace. Had the killer of John Lennon not been apprehended, and convicted, there would have been no peace.

So, why are black people, who so frequently have no arrests, no convictions of the people who kill their loved ones, supposed to have peace in spite of there is so often …no justice?

This nation has a huge swath of people who are in perpetual mourning. Not only are there people in mourning, but there are parents and relatives who are uptight whenever their young ones are out. Black people are not safe here. Black people cannot count on the police or the justice system to protect them and make sure there is justice for them. There is too often no justice; there is no peace.

The parents and family and friends of Sandra Bland are crying this morning not only because Sandra is gone but also because now they have to deal with this system which has the reputation of casting black bodies away and not seeking justice. The families of Michael Brown and John Crawford and Trayvon Martin are left holding their grief in check while justice slides through the sieve into which their loved ones’ cases have been placed.

No justice. No peace.

All we can do is keep on trying, keep on pushing for justice. It ought not be this hard, but it is and has always been. As exhausting as it is to fight, African-Americans have to stay on the battlefield. Power concedes nothing without a demand.

There is a demand. Justice. Without it, no peace.

A candid observation …

What If It Were My Son?

Freddie Gray is dead and nobody seems to know how it happened.

His body has not yet been released to his family. There has been an autopsy – though the results have not been yet released – and another, independent autopsy has been requested by the family.

But meanwhile, Freddie Gray lies dead and nobody seems to know what happened.

It is maddening that, after a week, nobody knows anything. It feels like incompetence and it begs an explanation as to why such incompetence exists. It feels like information is being withheld in an effort to protect the police.

It brings back memories of how the death of Michael Brown was handled.

I keep asking “What if it were my son?” I can only imagine the agony, the added-on agony, of Gray’s family as they wait for answers, and as they wait to lay their son and family member to rest.

His spinal cord was 80 percent severed, according to reports …and in this day of the highest technology, nobody seems to know how that happened. It begs credulity.

Eighty percent severed…

His ordeal began at 8:39 a.m. on April 12. He was put into the police van at 8:54 a.m. and by 9:24 a.m. he was not breathing or moving. He underwent “extensive” surgery, but it didn’t help.

What if it were my son?

What do you do, as a distraught parent or family member, when life has been snatched from someone you love but nobody will tell you how it happened? That type of death is as problematic as one caused by a plane falling out of the sky. Survivors want to know why and how? Anything less is unacceptable.

I know I would be suspicious by now. I would think that police and the courts and the coroner were keeping information from me. That belief would pour salt into the raw wound called grief and would cause deep anger.

This type of tragedy, suspicious deaths of people at the hands of police, has been happening for decades. The deaths have happened and the circumstances have primarily been blamed on the victim. The word of the police and courts has been taken as sacrosanct. As a result, there are a lot of parents, wives, and other family members who are walking around with two holes in their spirit: one caused by the death of their loved one and the other caused by the lack of knowing what really happened and by the knowledge that the police have been exonerated.

If it were my son, if I were seeing him being dragged by police officers, seemingly unable to walk, I would be weeping. If it were my son, my imagination would be making up all kinds of scenarios as to what happened to him, and I would be weeping. If it were my son, and I heard his cry as he was being dragged to the police wagon, I would be weeping.

But I would also be indignant and angry at the lack of explanation of what happened, why, and how.

My prayer is that the official report being waited for does not end up being an insult – to his family or to the community. My prayer is that someone will honestly explain why Freddie Gray was pursued without probable cause. Running from police may not be wise, but it isn’t grounds for arrest…and if there was no reason to approach him in the first place other than he didn’t look an officer in the face, then his arrest is even more problematic.

If it were my son, I would be weeping …but I would be working to get answers. I would be weeping but I would be reaching for some kind of viable explanation as to why my son was dead.

The six officers who were involved in the arrest have been put on paid administrative leave. That is not acceptable, not for me.If it were my son, their continued ability to make a living while my son lay dead would be insulting and troubling.

The mothers and fathers of slain children, no matter how old they are, are bleeding, all over these United States. They are hemorrhaging and nobody …seems to notice or to care. They are crying, weeping, wailing …because their children are “no more…”  The mothers and parents and family of Trayvon Martin, Kendrick Johnson, Jonathan Ferrell, Rekia Boyd, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, John Crawford, Jordan Davis,Lennon Lacy, Walter Scott. Eric Harris …and so many more … are weeping and hemorrhaging their grief over the earth.

The death of a loved one is hard enough on its own. For a loved one to die this way takes one past the point of being able to be consoled. There would be no words to assuage the pain if it were my son…

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/