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 (http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/fugitive-slave-acts) Though those laws were repealed, the spirit of those laws never died, and what police do today in their treatment of black people feels like those acts are still hovering over and inside the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 …

When Good People Are Silent …

Ida B. Wells Barnett
Ida B. Wells Barnett (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

When good people are silent, and do nothing, evil triumphs.

 

That sentiment is attributed to English philosopher Edmund Burke, and he may or may not have said it, but it is true nonetheless.

 

Black children are being killed by police officers and vigilantes. That is evil. That is modern-day, 21st century lynching, sanctioned and worse, ignored, by “the law,” as was the case when lynching was talked about out loud. The United States never passed a law outlawing lynching, in spite of the efforts of Ida B. Wells Barnett and others.

 

Even then, too many people were silent.

 

Today, I am cringing and trying to understand why mothers, everywhere, black, white, and brown, are not up in arms, demanding that local, state and federal law enforcement do something!

 

Renisha McBride, the 19-year-old black female who was murdered last week, was merely looking for someone to help her when she wandered on the porch of the wrong person. She was shot in the face with a 12-gauge shotgun. She was somebody’s baby, looking for help, for goodness’ sake. She was unarmed. She was hurt, because she had been in a car accident. She was in a strange neighborhood. She was scared, I would bet …but I would also bet that she never even thought she would be shot .

 

Like it was with lynchings in the past, those who shoot (lynch) black people are not arrested, or, if they are, they are far too frequently let go. If they go to trial, they are acquitted. In the case of McBride, her alleged shooter has not even been charged yet. Her family says they don’t just want him charged. They want him convicted.

 

Shouldn’t all of us, those of us who are mothers, and those of us who just care, want that, too?

 

Shouldn’t all of us be pushing for this terrorism and murder of black children to stop?

 

If it were my child who had been killed, I’d be on the battlefield…but it hit me that Renisha …Trayvon …Jonathan…are my children. They are OUR children.

 

If you are reading this, and are a concerned mother, citizen, observer …please go to http://www.spirithouseproject.org and leave a note there that you want to become a voice for the abolition of the murders of black children and young people.

 

Evil triumphs when good people do nothing and are silent. I don’t know who really said it, or what the exact words were, originally, but I know it’s true.

 

The Holocaust happened because good people …were silent.

 

A candid observation …

 

Dangerous to be Black in America

The man who is accused of shooting and killing 19-year-old Renisha McBride says he was afraid for his life …and that he shot her in the face “accidentally” with his 12-gauge shotgun.

Sounds painfully familiar. Didn’t George Zimmerman say the same thing when he shot Trayvon Martin? And the police officer who shot Jonathan Ferrell  – didn’t he say he was afraid, which was why he pumped 10 bullets into Ferrell after having shot at him 12 times? What

What is clear is that it is dangerous to be black in America. Because black people have been criminalized and objectified, it is easy for a police officer or citizen or vigilante to claim that the killing of any given black person was “justified,” and that the shooting happened because the shooter …was in fear of his life.

Whenever I am in a strange neighborhood which also happens to be predominantly white, I am nervous. If I have to pull into someone’s driveway to turn around, again, I am nervous.  I realize that fear and racism, mixed together, make for deadly consequences. There has been, says Ruby Sales, founder and director of the SpiritHouse Project, a “rampant return of white vigilante violence that has resulted in black bodies being thought of as disposable and black people thought of as human waste.”  Instinctively, I know that that feeling is pervasive, and I have seen black people try unsuccessfully to defend themselves or loved ones in cases where there has been a tragic shooting.

Nobody listens to or believes the black accused.

In New York just this week, a 20-year old black male was released from prison after he had been accused of , tried, and convicted for a robbery. From the moment he was “snatched” off the streets in the Bronx, where Kalief Browder was walking home from a party, he protested his innocence …but nobody listened to him. Nearly in tears, he told reporters that he had missed his last years of high school, his graduation and momentous events in his life. In his face there is still a look of shocked and pained incredulity. (http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/story?section=news%2Finvestigators&id=9317078)

Somebody needs to say something. I mean, not just somebody, but a lot of somebodies, black parents and relatives who are, as Fannie Lou Hamer said, are “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”  The late Gordon Cosby, pastor of Church of the Savior, remembers Sales, would say today, in light of the shootings and killings that are happening at the hands of police and vigilantes, that it is not enough to be outraged. People who care, Cosby would say, would be “compelled to change” what is going on.

The question is, “how does one change something that is so completely systemic, insidious and basically ignored by “the law?” How does one change something that “the law,” in fact, seems to implicitly support? It seems part and parcel of the same attitude that accepts violence in black neighborhoods and schools, even as children are gunned down, without a word, and, in fact, assists in the criminalization of even the youngest students by arresting kids for things that used to get kids sent to the principal’s office.

Change can only come if those who are outraged speak up and speak out,  making more and more people aware of what is going on. Onie Johns, the founder of The Caritas Village in Memphis, Tennessee, has set up a “ministry of presence” there. She moved from the comfort of the suburbs to a house in the inner city where she sees and lives how “the least of these” lives daily. The mission of Caritas is to “break down the walls of hostility between the races and build bridges of love and trust between the rich and those made poor.”

Such a “ministry of presence,” practiced by those who are content and willing to accept the outlandish story of the man who allegedly shot Renisha McBride in the face, might help cut down this senseless, cruel and racist trend – and far too frequent trend –  of fearing for one’s life when a black person is in distress, seeking help. It might make people show compassion and concern, instead of cruelty and viciousness, supported by that fear.

Black parents know the drill in teaching their kids how to interact with a police officer, should he or she ever be stopped. Funny, we haven’t so much given the same drill, instruction on how to act when confronted by a vigilante, or what to do if they get into trouble and need help if they are in a white neighborhood.  We haven’t been teaching our kids on how to act, live and survive in a world where, apparently, far too many people look at us as “the boogie man.”

Perhaps we ought to begin. I am so tired of white people being afraid of black people …just because we’re black.

A candid observation …