Freddie Gray

What is going on now in the killing of black people by police  is merely an extension or continuation of America’s history as concerns legal violence against  African-Americans.

Michelle Alexander, in her book The New Jim Crow, as well as others, makes the case that mass incarceration is a way to control black lives in this country. Slavery was a good way to keep black people under the thumb of white people; when Lincoln freed the slaves in the states which had not seceded from the Union, Southerners were angry. The cry of “states’ rights” became common as Southerners deeply resented the “interference” of “big government” in their affairs. Whites began to consciously look for ways to again control black people. The result of their search included sharecropping and convict leasing.

But  within the culture of control was also a culture of terror. Black people were objects; people did not regard blacks as human beings, thanks to the interpretation of the United States Constitution and the Holy Bible. Black people were despised for their color but valued for their labor. What white people wanted was to forever be in control; for many, America was a white man’s country. Nobody, not “the law” or God, would object to how they treated their nigras.

Racial discrimination, after Reconstruction, was institutionalized, with laws written into the Constitutions of Southern states to make racism legal. Southern states actually rewrote their constitutions to reflect the legality of racial discrimination. The legality of racial discrimination, accompanied by the criminalization and dehumanization of black people allowed people, including police officers, to oppress black people and throw them into jail for whatever reasons they wanted. Jim Crow laws were put into effect to keep black people subordinate to white people (see “Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror” written by the Equal Justice Initiative.) Black people could be and were arrested or in some cases, just lynched, for the most minor “offenses.” The EJI report tells of a man who was lynched in 1889 because he tried to enter a room where three white women were sitting, and another man was lynched for knocking on the door of a white woman. (EJI report. p 31)

Black people were arrested and many times lynched without the benefit of a trial for vagrancy, for speaking to white people, for looking at white people, for not stepping off a sidewalk or for bumping into a white woman.  Though it was common, and had been common since slavery, for white men to rape black women, black men could be and were lynched for even unproven allegations of having sex with white women.

Law enforcement did not protect black people. Law enforcement …and local and state governments, did not protect black people, either. The federal government was basically impotent, refusing to become involved in the way states treated black people unless what was going on threatened to adversely affect the state.

Black people, then, have been living in terror and distrust of law enforcement officers for hundreds of years. The Great Migration happened in large part because black people were tired of living in fear, and tired of being terrorized by mobs and cops. They witnesses horrific destruction of black life – black people hung from trees, then shot as they hung, taken down and dragged through the streets. Often times they were burned alive, and sometimes they were set afire after the hanging was done.  Like the Romans who crucified people and let them hang along main drags into major cities to remind people of what happened to those who challenged the government, white people paraded their “catches” through the streets. Sometimes those doing the lynching made family members watch as their loved one was brutalized and mutilated. (http://www.tampabay.com/features/humaninterest/spectacle-the-lynching-of-claude-neal/1197360)

In a horrific case, the lynching of Claude Neal in Florida, Neal, who confessed to raping and killing a white woman, he was dragged from jail by a mob. He was taken to a location where he was tortured before he was killed. He was shot; his testicles were cut off and he was made to eat them; his penis was also cut off and he was made to eat it. After he was hung he was shot 50 times. His fingers and toes were cut off and sold as souvenirs. The sense is that everyone knows who killed Neal but nobody talked – not then and not now.

When I heard the account of why Freddie Gray was chased – because he made eye contact with police officers and then ran, a chill ran up my spine. The spirit of racism and of hatred, coupled with the tradition of white law enforcement allowing and often participating in the mass destruction and control of black people…has not died. Black people still do not trust law enforcement – not the police, not the detectives, not the judges or the court system …and white people still feel justified to stop and harass black people for two reasons: one, because they can and get away with it, and two, because they still regard black people as criminals and not quite human. Only when an individual regards another individual as an object can he or she treat others as white police officers have too often treated black people.

None of what the white mobs did to black people was done without violence. I guess that’s why I cringe as news anchors express so much dismay over the potential for violence as black people gather in frustration and anger to protest the way they (we) have been treated. White mob violence meted out against not only black individuals, but against entire towns and neighborhoods was nothing short of barbaric. But again, the resentment of whites against black people for their standing up for justice is not a new thing; in the past, some people who voiced opposition to the unjust laws and murderous treatment they received were lynched.

My prayer is that the family of Freddie Gray gets justice. I am not confident that any investigation of what happened to him will yield charges against the officers who were involved. I hope that we do not receive the dreaded phrase, “the force used was justified.”

Those who lynched black people in the past used that same phrase. That enabled them to kill black people when and as they wanted …and never look back. They accused and killed black people because they could.

It feels like that privilege is still alive and kicking.

A candid observation …

Ms. Sully Didn’t Have to Die

So, let me understand this.

Police in Hearne, Texas, were called to a residence where a 93-year-old woman was supposedly wielding a gun.

Her name was Pearlie Golden…and she had lived in Hearne for mpst of her life.

And oh yes…she was a black woman, shot by a white police officer.

Police got to her residence and told her “at least three times” to put down her firearm. Apparently, she didn’t, and so police opened fire on her, hitting her multiple times. (http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/07/us/texas-police-shoot-elderly-woman-93/index.html?hpt=hp_t2).

She was transported to a local hospital, where she later died.

I am trying to understand, to make sense out of this, but for the life of me, I cannot.

Why in the world…would a police officer shoot to kill a 93-year-old woman?

“Miss Sully,” as her community and relatives called her, was angry supposedly because one of her relatives had taken car keys from her. She wanted to drive; her relative didn’t think it was wise, and so took the keys.

That happens a lot, I hear, as people age; they get angry as those who love them take away their independence bit by bit, for their own good. Ms. Sully wasn’t a criminal. She was an old woman who wanted to drive her car.

The officer who allegedly fired the fatal shots has been put on “administrative leave.” That’s normal police procedure …and far too often, “the facts” found out by police investigators rule that the homicide was “justifiable” and the officer is given back his/her gun and goes right back out to the streets.

Just this week, the country, no, the world, was outraged as the words of L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling were played over and over. His racist remarks were “shocking,” people said, but I doubt it.

What was shocking is that he was exposed publicly. He was an embarrassment. People all over the world are racist; they like their racism kept under wraps, though.

Would that police officers in this nation, who shoot first and ask questions later would be so exposed as was Mr. Sterling and be embarrassed or that police departments would get uncomfortable or embarrassed enough to do something. Would that the community called America would stand up and say, out loud, to police, that they have to stop these modern-day lynchings.

“Ms. Sully’s” death is an outrage, and the fact that police all over the country are allowed to keep murdering people at will is an outrage as well.

The bigger outrage, though, is the silence of the people, the refusal to do something to get someone to look at these murders and force change, some kind of way, in the way police in America do business.

Officer Stephen Stem, who hasn’t been on the police force all that long, is still getting paid, though he’s on administrative leave. He’s waiting for that investigation…which, if trends are followed, will probably find that what he did was okay, was correct policy and procedure.

I don’t believe in police investigations anymore. I stopped a long time ago. Police protect their own.

Ms. Sully didn’t have to die. I would bet someone could have talked that weapon out of her hand.

Yep, I’m mad.

This happens way too often …and nobody really seems to care.

A candid observation …