Fear Brings Silence

A silhouette showing a police officer striking...
A silhouette showing a police officer striking a person, symbolising police brutality. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A friend of mine, now deceased, wrote a play some time ago called, “Our Young Black Men Are Dying and Nobody Seems to Care.” The playwright, James Chapmyn, composed this choreopoem which has the “voices” of young, black men, now dead, telling their stories. They are dead – some from police violence, some from black-on-black violence, some from HIV/AIDS …and nobody, it seems, cares.

I’ve seen excerpts of the work.  What I saw was chilling; it brought me to tears. Young, black, men, crying for someone to hear them, care about them…Chapmyn’s work was spot-on.

And yet, in spite of this work and the truth it shares, the situation is still the same. Young, black men are dying and still, nobody seems to care.

The silence of everyone is troubling; the silence and lack of desire to become involved by black people is heart-breaking. Silence means we acquiesce to situations before us. We are acquiescing to the violence and the “reasons” that the violence is said to occur that we have been fed.

Just this morning, I read the piece about the young man in North Carolina, 17-year-old Jesus Huerta, who, while his hands were handcuffed behind his back and he was sitting in a police care, apparently shot himself in the head and died. (http://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/police-say-teen-shot-self-head-while-hands-cuffed-behind-back)

How does one do that? How is it possible? And why are we who think the story sounds “off” so silent?

OK. So Huerta isn’t black …but he is a young man of color…who is dead…under suspicious circumstances…and he’s not the first one for whom this kind of story has been told.  In 2012 in Arkansas, 21-year-old Chacobie (Chavis) Carter apparently managed to do the same thing.  Sitting in the back seat of a patrol car, young Carter was found dead, a small caliber pistol found near him, and his hands were still handcuffed. (http://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/police-say-teen-shot-self-head-while-hands-cuffed-behind-back) In 2012 in Texas, yet another handcuffed teen managed to shoot himself in the head while handcuffed. (http://www.salon.com/2012/12/06/another_handcuffed_young_man_manages_to_shoot_himself/)

It just doesn’t seem feasible that a person can shoot himself while his hands are locked behind his back …and yet that’s the bill of goods we are being told…and nobody is saying anything.

I wonder if we are afraid to speak up and speak out.  Do you remember how, in the movie, Twelve Years a Slave, that  nobody said anything, did anything, while Solomon Northrup was hanging from that rope? For hours, he hung there, and people looked…and then looked away. Only a few were brave enough to offer him a drop of water. And I have read how, even during the height of the Civil Rights movement, though everyone knew horrible things were going on, few people had the courage to say or do anything. They had reasons; they were threatened with loss of life, home, job …or all of the above…and so they kept silent. The Civil Rights movement brought about change because young people and children …who had little to lose economically, refused to be silent.

Is it that we are still afraid to speak up against injustice because we feel we have too much to lose? Nobody wants to be labeled…you know, called a “radical” or “trouble-maker.” Everybody just kind of wants to go along to get along…and to hang onto what they have. The threat of economic and social ostracization is real. Many good people have remained silent, trying to hold onto their piece of “the American dream” and what little status they have. Fannie Lou Hamer, I remember, was beaten nearly to death and lost her home when she dared speak up for voting rights for black people. Nobody wants to be beaten or thrown out into the street for standing up for justice.

But what about the children? What about the modern-day lynchings that just keep happening? How in the world does a person with his hands in handcuffs behind his back manage to shoot himself in the head?  I don’t get it. Are more of us questioning … but are afraid to “make a stink” about it” Is it that we feel like we cannot afford to speak up and speak out?

Is that why our young men are dying …and nobody seems to care?

A candid observation …

Forty Years Later- Justice

I breathed a sigh of relief, revealing a breath I had unknowingly been holding, as I read that outgoing North Carolina Gov. Beverly Purdue gave a full pardon to the “Wilmington 10.”

But I also felt a familiar tinge of anger and bitterness.  Justice often comes slowly, especially when it comes to cases or situations involving black people.

In her pardon, Gov. Perdue said “These convictions were tainted by naked racism and represent an ugly stain on North Carolina’s criminal justice system that cannot be allowed to stand any longer. Justice demands that this stain finally be removed.”  (http://inamerica.blogs.cnn.com/2012/12/31/north-carolina-governor-pardons-wilmington-10/?iref=allsearch)

The Wilmington 10 became nationally known in 1972 when nine black men and one white woman were accused and convicted of conspiracy and arson in the firebombing a white-owned store in a black neighborhood. Among the 10 convicted persons was Ben Chavis, who at age 24 at the time of the incident, was the oldest of the group. Chavis was sentenced to 34 years in prison, and was imprisoned from 1972 to 1979.

In 1978, the sentences were reduced for all of the Wilmington 10, and two years later, North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt overturned their convictions. Among the reasons cited was misconduct by the prosecutor of the case. Gov. Perdue said, in her comments about why she granted the pardon, that information given to her had revealed that there had been much injustice served in the case.

In an article on CNN, the author wrote, “Perdue said that among the key evidence that led her to grant pardons of innocence were recently discovered notes from the prosecutor who picked the jury. The notes showed the prosecutor preferred white jurors who might be members of the Ku Klux Klan and one black juror was described as an “Uncle Tom type.”

The author continued, “Perdue also pointed to the federal court’s ruling that the prosecutor knew his star witness lied on the witness stand. That witness and other witnesses recanted a few years after the trial.”  (http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/31/justice/north-carolina-wilmington-10/index.html).

All along, the 10 people had protested that they were innocent, but to no avail. The case received international attention and condemnation.  When the United States criticized Russia for having political prisoners in the 1970s, that country commented that the United States had little  ground for its criticism, citing the political prisoners in America known as the Wilmington 10.

That it took 40 years for this pardon to be granted is one issue, but a larger issue is that this type of injustice, so often meted out to African-Americans and other persons of color,  is and has been so much a part of the American justice system. Michelle Alexander lays out the scope of the injustice experienced by African-Americans in her landmark book, The New Jim Crow, pointing out how the “war on crime” adversely and disproportionately affected African-Americans, but even before that, it was clear that America had a justice system that was anything but just for them.

In the book Slavery by Another Name,  author Douglas A. Blackmon brilliantly lays out how the convict leasing system was based on and depended upon, injustice as concerned mostly people of color. One could be arrested for just about anything and, through an unsophisticated yet highly successful system of cooperation between the justice system and farmers and businessmen who needed cheap labor in order to realize huge profits. Blackmon describes how that system essentially criminalized black people, mostly men, and kept them enslaved to those farmers and corporations for years, and nobody said anything about it, though what was being practiced was peonage, which was illegal.

Thus, the roots of injustice toward black people are deep, watered and nurtured by, none else than the “justice system” itself. It became easier and easier to label black people as “criminals” as they were frequently arrested for the slightest “offense,” something that could be as minor as being stopped on the way to looking for a job because they had no money. The things black people were arrested and sentenced to a life of slavery to farms and corporations garnered no questions or outrage from an apathetic country that was being led to believe that these troublesome black people were in fact bad, and deserving of getting “justice” so that society would be safer. It was a manipulated image that took hold.

So it is not surprising that when Chavis and the others who comprised the Wilmington 10 were arrested that the prosecutor did whatever he had to do in order to get them convicted. The justice system supported injustice toward blacks. The Wilmington 10 reportedly had two trials; the first one ended in a mistrial when the prosecutor, Jay Stroud, said he was sick. In that trial, the jury was made up of 10 blacks and 2 whites. In the second trial, which resulted in the conviction of the defendants,  the jury was made up of 10 whites and two blacks.

Chavis, who was once a member of the United Church of Christ, never stopped working for justice. From the beginning, he and the others knew that they had been wrongly accused and wrongly convicted; bigger than that, he knew that the injustice had been allowed to take place because of the racial tensions in North Carolina and in the United States.

“Although we were totally innocent of the  charges, it took almost a decade of court appeals, state-witnesses recanting,  federal re-investigations, years of unjust imprisonment and cruel punishment  before the Wilmington Ten had our unjust convictions overturned, names cleared,” Chavis said in an article which appears on his website (http://www.drbenjaminchavis.com/pages/landing/?blockID=73315&feedID=3359). He said that the arrests and convictions were the result of  “federal  officials (who) conspired together to unjustly frame, arrest, try, imprison, and  repress members of the Wilmington Ten who were actively protesting the  institutionalized racial discrimination and hostilities surrounding the forced,  court-ordered desegregation of the public school system in New Hanover County  and Wilmington, North Carolina from 1968-1971.”

It is good that Gov. Perdue issued the pardon, but it begs the question of how many other unjustly accused and convicted people of color, most often African-American, are sitting in prisons today. Some whites may be surprised and shocked that such a travesty of justice occurred “back then,” but here is what is sobering: this type of injustice is still happening. Racism, resulting in bigoted attitudes toward and beliefs about black people,  still accounts for many arrests today. Prisons are overflowing with young black men many of whom, in the final analysis, were arrested for minor drug possession charges. Their presence in our prisons is making someone wealthy. Prisons-for-profit are cropping up more and more. Institutionalized slavery still exists.

So, I am glad for the pardon of Chavis and the others. Because of the pardon, those of the group who remain alive will get some monetary remuneration, and that is a good thing. They will get some money for each year they were incarcerated. I am glad about that.

But I am sad, too, because, the more things change, the more they remain the same …

A candid observation …

 

Why the Hatred?

Bible
Bible (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

What I have been trying to figure out for the longest is why there is so much hatred directed at gays and lesbians.

By now, everyone has seen the absolutely horrid “sermon” of Charles Worley, a North Carolina pastor, who preached that if he had his way, he would put gays and lesbians in fenced in electrified pens, and drop food down to them. Sooner or later, he  preached, they’d die off.

He said, “The Bible’s agin (sic) it, God‘s agin it, I’m agin it and if you have any sense you’d be agin it, too!”

He said he’d keep the lesbians, homosexuals and queers in these pens, and sooner or later they’d be gone because they wouldn’t be able to reproduce themselves.

He said that the thought of same-gender loving people (that’s now how he said it) made him puke.

His words made me want to puke.

The hatred directed toward the LGBT community cannot simply be because religious people think that same-gender relationships are a sin. There are a lot of sins and a lot of sinning people, and there is not this hatred, spewed from pulpits, and claiming God’s will is being done in the words of hatred being spoken.

If it’s not because they deem homosexuality to be a sin, then what is it?

Is it ignorance? Arrogance? There’s not so much venomous religious speech when women are abused, sexually and/or physically, by their husbands.  We don’t see it when children are molested, too often by fathers, uncles, brothers or close friends.

There’s not such venomous religious speech when people commit adultery…and that should arouse some passion, shouldn’t it, since opponents of anything LGBT will say that marriage is supposed to be between “one man and one woman.”

There are no such hate-filled outbursts when women are raped, or when innocent people are put to death for crimes they didn’t commit.

There used to be such vitriol when it came to Christians supporting racism. The Rev. Worley said he wouldn’t vote for Mr. Obama because he was a baby-killer and a homosexual-lover. Used to be if one stuck up for the civil rights of African-Americans, he or she would be called a nigger-lover.

So, race and sex, not any sex that is truly immoral, but only homosexual sex – are the only things that arouse this kind of hatred. Why?

Supposedly the hatred against the LGBT community is worse in African-American communities. I’ve been trying to figure that one out, too. I have read the historical context of the opposition of religious African-Americans to homosexuality. I understand how, since African-American males have been historically emasculated by this American society, that anything that further feels like a continuation of that would be objectionable.

But I do not understand how what one man may do with another man can affect the masculinity of a heterosexual man or woman.

It can’t be just that “the Bible says” it’s a sin, that “the word of God” says it’s so…because the Bible and the word of God say that lots of things are wrong, and we just don’t get that uptight about it.

The hatred spewed by Christians against anyone is antithetical to Christian theology, a theology that says that God is love. The “Great Commandment,” found in the Hebrew scriptures and then repeated by Jesus himself, says that we are to love God with all our hearts, all our minds, and all our souls…and we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.”

I especially do not understand the capacity of African-Americans to hate or discriminate against another group of people, as we have been so discriminated against ourselves.

I do not believe the hatred is supported by “the word of God,” or by “the scriptures.” I think the hatred is a uniquely human reaction to a fear and ignorance about sexuality in general. I think the hatred directed outward is a reflection of the self-hatred many feel as they struggle with their own sexuality. While sex is beautiful as an expression of love between two committed adults, the fact of the matter is that too many people, especially religious people, have treated it as dirty and bad. I have heard some Christian women express remorse when they’ve had good sexual relationships with their husbands, because they’ve been taught that sex is bad.

So, if people have issues with committed heterosexual sex, then it’s not hard to understand that they might struggle with “sexual fantasies” or with any sexual activity they might deem “unnatural,” but which they might really want to try themselves.

Sex is not what makes a loving relationship; it’s the commitment between the people that makes a relationship pleasing to God.  There clearly is a lack of commitment in heterosexual relationships, as evidenced by the ever-increasing rate of divorce in this country.

I would feel less uneasy about the objections to homosexuality spewed by religious people if I felt like it was genuinely rooted in the will and word of God, but God is not hatred, God does not condone hatred, and God does not cause hatred. Rev. Worley, in my opinion, ought to be worried, using the pulpit, a holy space, to spew unholy rhetoric. God would not want anyone to put  “gays, lesbians and queers” in electrified pens, with people, religious people at that, “dropping food” down to them until they died.

That kinds of sounds like something Hitler would advocate. (It is estimated that nearly 200,000 homosexuals were murdered during the Holocaust…)

These words of hatred are, in fact, anti-Biblical, statements of ideology and personal belief which ought to be called such… There is no God and no Jesus in any of what these words convey.

A candid observation …

Wikipedia: queer definition: worthless, counterfeit.