No Violence. Strategy

The entire debacle surrounding the shooting death of Michael Brown has been at once fascinating and energetic …and yet, troubling.

I am not so concerned with people, spurred by the media, concentrating on the violence, putting it down as barbaric and primitive, though it is interesting that white culture has seemingly forgotten its own history of violence. White culture, especially the law enforcement culture, has been relentless and legion in exerting violence against black people. When black people fought for the right to vote, and for the right to sit at lunch counters and to integrate facilities, white culture, with police either participating in the violence or standing by and watching it …responded with violence. The show of force in Ferguson, with police in riot gear and coming on like they were fighting in Iraq or somewhere, is not a new thing. A careful walk back through history shows disturbingly similar photos of military-like police officers standing ready to demolish groups of black people. Police, encouraged and ordered by Bull Connor, used police dogs and fire hoses on women and children when they protested racism. Police were often part of violent KKK outings that took lives of black people and many were members of the Klan themselves, as were many of the attorneys and judges that tried and heard cases of black people; that’s not something that is an opinion, it is documented history.

No, though I don’t like it, I am not so concerned with people concentrating on the violence that erupted after Mike Brown’s shooting.

What I am concerned about it this spirit of anticipation of violence if Police Officer Darren Wilson is not indicted.

Everybody in America knows that police officers are seldom held accountable for the killings that they commit. They are nearly always excused. They are allowed to shoot people and give as the excuse or reason, “I was in fear for my life,” and it’s like getting a token to go through a subway turnstile. It is highly probable that Wilson, although apparently he has a record of not being so nice to black people in his capacity as an officer ….will not be indicted.

If that happens, my prayer is there will be …not violence …but mind-blowing strategy. I am prayerful that if Wilson is not indicted, “the strategy” will go into place immediately. I am prayerful that “the strategy” will be so tough, so effective, that it will shake the economic foundations not only of Ferguson, St. Louis and the state of Missouri, but will become a threat and a wake-up call to police departments all over this country, a sign that people are fed up with police officers getting away with horrific shootings allowed them by the unbridled power they possess.

Let me say up front that yes, police officers have a tough job. They are, in many cases, “in fear for their lives.”

But it appears, from the work that I have done with Ruby Sales and The Spirit House Project, that in many of these shooting deaths, the police have exerted their power to kill…and have gone unscathed and unaccountable.

People in power don’t care an iota about the emotions of other people. Their quest is to maintain and perhaps increase their power. They don’t have to worry about “the least of these” or, as Professor Obery Hendricks says in his book, “treat the needs of the people as holy.” They just do not have to care…and many times, too many, they do not.

So, the police officers and police departments don’t care if there are weeping mothers and fathers left in the aftermath of a shooting that results in the death of an unarmed person. They don’t really even have to defend themselves half the time. They run on the myth that black people are bad, that they are lazy and will not work, and that if they were shot, they deserved it.

That feels like the spirit of a police state.

So, it really will not bother the Ferguson Police Department, or the St. Louis Police Department  if folks in Ferguson get violent if Wilson is not indicted. They almost want that kind of reaction. It is a reaction they can beat, and they know it.

No…the cities and states of this nation need to be made uncomfortable in another way. They need to feel the power of the people in another way. In Montgomery, Alabama, the bus boycott caused the bus company, downtown stores and businesses and the city to lose a little over $1 million…and that was in the 1950s. White businesses were made aware of the economic power of black people; blacks pour an inordinate amount of money into white businesses. We help make rich people richer.

Any strategy that works in this issue of police brutality, is going to be a strategy that somehow hampers normal and accepted behavior and practices. A successful strategy will put a strain on the status-quo. Street violence is just not going to be acceptable.

Even as I write this, I do not know if an effective strategy is being developed. I hope so.

It is the only thing that will get the attention of power brokers who are cocky about their power…and have no intention of changing it.

A candid observation.

Police an Uneducated Lot

I have struggled for a while, trying to “explain” what I have long observed: the vast majority of police officers are young, white men…with little more than a high school education.

Not only that. Many of them come from all-white environments; many have never known a black person before they come onto their respective police forces. All they have are the myths about black people that were begun long ago and which are perpetuated by their families, their churches, the media.

They come onto the force thinking black people are just bad.

And because they know few, if any, black people, they come on the force afraid. Black people are an “unknown” that they have been taught should be feared.

Honestly, I think that’s where the impulse to shoot first and ask questions later comes from. White people in general in this nation have been taught that black people are bad; that’s called “criminalization.” And they have been taught, albeit subliminally in many cases, that black people are less than human. That’s called “dehumanization.”

But there is something about our law enforcement system that has been ignored: these young guys (and women) have very little education. They are not made to take sociology or psychology. They are not made to study the history of police relations with minorities. They are not required to be licensed, like a psychologist or doctor or teacher.

They simply go to the police academy. They go through a kind of basic training. They are physically fit, yes. But they are lacking in social skills. They are not taught about the neighborhoods into which they will venture. They are made physically fit; they pass the qualifying exam, then are given a badge and a gun. They are given permission to kill. And they do, largely because they are afraid.

They DO put their lives in jeopardy, but they put the lives of black, brown and poor people into jeopardy as well. They do not know us, black people. They do not know how our parents have struggled to make a living – much like their parents did. They do not know, do not believe, that black people have “family values.” They just know what they have been taught: that black people, especially black men, are bad news.

Georg Wilhelm Frederich Hegel, a popular and widely studied Western philosopher and theologian, wrote something that made my spirit roll up. He wrote: “It is the essential principle of slavery that man has not yet attained self-consciousness of his freedom, and consequently sinks down to a mere Thing – an object of no value. Among Negroes moral sentiments are weak or, more strictly, non-existent.” (The Philosophy of History). 

Black people were not humans; they were things, and he, a person who theologians and teachers and preachers would turn for knowledge, would write much that supported the notion that black people were inhuman. He wrote, “What signify these races to us? Who cares particularly for the Negro, or Hottentot or the Kaffir – Destined by the nature of their race to run, like animals, a certain limited course of existence, it matters little how their extinction is brought about.”

How in the world can the white race, burdened as it is by such racist underpinnings, be expected to rise above that – except that they be educated? The history is there. We are not taught it in school, but it is there. It is undeniable. It is there, in black and white, stories of how white people have systematically, and with government and law enforcement support,  decimated, killed and harassed black people in this nation. To our credit, we have not given up …but the struggle has been immense.

What would be the difference in police departments if the new recruits HAD to take sociology, psychology, history? What would be the difference in their behavior as they learned the critical difference between myth and reality? I would bet that for some, the fear would be abated. At the worst, they would go into black communities armed not only with guns…but with knowledge. The mere presence of black people might not terrify them so much. They might listen …and not attack, as they are so often wont to do.

Education does something to one’s spirit. It sucks up ignorance and makes room for growth. It opens eyes and provides answers to questions we didn’t even know we had.

Police officers, young white boys just out of high school, need to be educated.

A candid observation …

Justice Denied

As an African-American, I find myself ever wishing and hoping for …justice for our people killed by law enforcement officers…but it almost never comes.

Yesterday, the officers who shot and killed John Crawford in a Wal-Mart store in Beavercreek, Ohio, were not indicted. In spite of the fact that Crawford was holding a toy gun in a store where it is OK to carry guns …he was gunned down and his killers will go free. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/24/john-crawford-iii_n_5876574.html)

The names of the officers are, by the way, Sgt. David Darkow and Officer Dean Williams.

There is always “something” that we the public “don’t get.” There’s always a “reason” why African-Americans are gunned down and killed by police, and the “reason’ is enough to clear the officers of any wrongdoing.  The grand jury must have seen something, heard the “something” that we, the public, “don’t get.” They found that the officers’ actions were justified. No excessive force…

We in the African-American community have seen police work in our neighborhoods; we have seen and heard the harassment, the taunting and daring officers give in our communities. They do not protect us. They seem to feel we don’t deserve protection.

Instead, they goad our people, especially our young people …and then blame them for any altercation that might ensue or, ultimately, any shooting death that might occur.

When Rodney King was attacked by police officers years ago, I, for one, rejoiced because the beating was caught on tape. Now, I thought, the people will see how police treat African-Americans. They will be arrested, I again thought erroneously. They will lose their jobs. They will be held accountable.

But the justice I thought would be a no-brainer did not come. The officers were cleared of wrongdoing …and the African-American community in Los Angeles went up in flames.

I have been holding my breath as the grand jury in Ferguson has been out, considering the future of Darren Wilson. Officer Darren Wilson. There is nothing in me that believes he will be indicted.

But in the case of the officers who shot John Crawford, I thought, just like I thought when Rodney King was beaten, that surely these guys who shot Crawford would be made to answer for their actions. That would have been justice. But, as usual, it is justice …denied.

When Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam killed Emmett Till there was a trial …but it was a farce. An all-white jury found the two white assailants innocent…and took only minutes to come to their “verdict.”  Later, they arrogantly confessed in an article which appeared in Look Magazine. They were arrogant, cocky, unrepentant…Mamie Till, Emmett’s mother, who insisted that the world see what these men had done to her son, never got justice. What agony she must have felt for the rest of her life.

I would imagine that the officers in Crawford’s death are likewise feeling on top of the world today. Arrogant, Cocky. Ready to get back to work, feeling like they can do whatever they want and get away with it.

People have said to African-Americans, “Wait. Don’t jump to conclusions before “the facts” are known. Let the system work.”

Thing is, we’ve been waiting for “the system” to work in our favor for some time. Mothers and fathers, wives and children, have been robbed of justice in the deaths of their loved ones which has come at the hands of “law enforcement” for literally decades in this nation. In addition to weeping over the loss of their loved one, they have wept and are continuing to weep over the fact that the assailants have been cleared of wronging and are free. I call that justice …denied.

“The law” in America is held up as sacrosanct. If one is truly American, one obeys “the law.” And if one doesn’t, one should expect to be punished.

But that proclamation seems only to hold for certain situations. White people in the South ignored “the law” when the federal government ordered schools to be integrated after Brown vs Board of Education.  Some governors closed schools rather than integrate them. “The law” didn’t apply to them, they decided, …and they were none the worse for it.

Word: Whenever a person or a family has justice denied, there is deep pain, then deep frustration, followed by depression…and then anger. The anger amongst African-Americans is bubbling, America. Can’t you feel it?

I can.

A candid observation …

 

 

“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 …

 

Fear Produced Ferguson Disturbance

Police are allowed to use deadly force if they are ‘in fear for their lives.” I get that. It makes sense…

Except that when it comes to black people, it seems like police are always in fear for their lives.

Fear of black people is nothing new. Time magazine calls it “Negrophobia,” and defines it as “the unjustified fear of black people.” (http://time.com/3207307/negrophobia-michael-brown-eric-garner-and-americas-fear-of-black-people/) The article talks about phobias in general; they are “extreme aversions,” and they can cause impulsive, irrational, behavior. When I was a child, I had a phobia about bees; if I saw one, I ran. If one, God forbid, was in my car, I was prone to want to stop the car wherever it was and get out and run. My daughter has a phobia about spiders. If she even thinks she sees one, she will grab whatever is near to spray on it and will spray it until it drowns. She even bought a special vacuum cleaner which she kept near her, plugged in and ready to go, so that if she saw a spider, no matter how small, she could get her vacuum cleaner out and get rid of it.

It seems that many white people have…that kind of unnatural, unjustified fear of black people.  A friend of mine said he got onto an elevator which already had a passenger – a white woman. As soon as he got on, he said, he could see her tense up. He stayed on the other side of the elevator, so as to try to reduce her discomfort. When the elevator door opened, she darted out …only to run smack into another black man who was getting on. My friend said he thought she was going to faint. Negrophobia. We who are Negroes have seen it and felt it.

In the recent debacle in Ferguson, it felt like fear was running the agenda. Those police officers, wrapped, as they were in riot gear and equipped with military weapons, were afraid. All they saw was a sea of black faces, people whom they do not really regard as people, people whom they have not cared to try to get to know. They saw people who, they believe, are mere brutes, objects, not people, devoid of feeling, emotion and, frankly, human worth. What I saw was a group of frightened white people ready to kill “the enemy,” i.e., black people. It didn’t matter that most of them did not loot and were not armed. They were part of the “enemy camp,” to be feared as much as an Iraqi soldier might be feared in the war over there.

Brandon Hill, the author of the article in Time, wrote, “Phobic people hyperbolize a threat that is not actually present, and trip themselves into aggression.” Police, mostly white, have been given a steady dose of “black people are bad people,” as has been the general public. Many white people still, in the 21st century, have not met and do not know any black people. All they have is the myths, the sound bites and the media depiction of black people as animals, aberrant entities in this nation who, frankly, are bringing the country down. Bill O’Reilly said that the problems with black people come from “the culture.” He is, of course, inferring that black culture is deficient in and of itself, not allowing one iota for the impact of racism, poverty and general oppression on the lives of so many African-Americans. He obviously does not know the culture of this people which has sustained and strengthened them as they have fought racism in every aspect of their lives. He does not know, or care about, black fathers and mothers who work two and three jobs to sustain their families. He does not know about how central faith and God is to this people who have been discarded by the country they helped build. He does not know this culture which teaches a crazy lesson that people are to forgive their oppressors, because that is a central tenet of Christianity.

When my son was little, he was unbelievably cute, and people, white and black, would stop me and comment on the same. I found myself resenting the compliment coming from white people, though, because I knew that as he grew, he wouldn’t be so cute. He would be just another black man. He is now a strapping 6’4″ and has fallen into the category of those to be feared; as such, he is at risk of being approached by and harassed by a Negrophobe.

Fear caused the debacle in Ferguson, not the protesting people. A few bad apples looted, feeding into the “bad Negro” motif Americans have embraced, but the debacle was not caused by the looters. The debacle was caused by frightened white police officers with too much power and too many military-grade weapons. Had the officers treated the protestors like human beings, and not like “f***ing animals” the outcome, the response would have been different.

I know that because I know “the culture.”

If more white people knew the culture, they’d be able to replace the fear with respect …and that would create an entirely different vibe between whites and blacks.

I don’t think the fear will disappear any time soon, though. Negrophobia is an American malady which is probably here to stay…

A candid observation …