Point of View Columns

Not Only Baltimore is Burning

The death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore police custody has sparked yet another conflagration in Baltimore. The death of Freddie Gray has created yet another wave of protests over yet another cop black man homicide. Ferguson, Staten Island, North Charleston, Cleveland, Baltimore……the death dirge plays from coast to coast. And we continue to search for the reasons why.

We find ourselves asking once again why there appears to be a disproportionate number of deaths by cop in the black communities across this nation. Which in turn leads to the question of why there are a disproportionate number of arrests in the black community as well as convictions in the black community as well as more severe sentencing in the black community as well as the most onerous incarceration punishments in the black community? And why does it seem as if the criminal justice system is at war with the black community – the community that it is supposed to protect and serve?

The statistics are so appalling they tend to anesthetize and desensitize. This country has 5 per cent of the world’s population and 25 per cent of the world’s prisoners. This country has more prisoners per capita than so-called repressive regimes in Iran, North Korea and China. And a disproportionate number of these prisoners are black. And most of these prisoners are men – most of them imprisoned when they are young black men. Forty percent of America’s prisoners are black although black Americans make up only twelve percent of this country’s population.

During the modern Era of American Incarceration which began in the 1970’s, millions of black men have been incarcerated. During this Era of American Incarceration, entire neighborhoods, communities and cities have been eviscerated as young black men aged 18-34 have been the subject of a bizarre sort of ethnic cleansing.

Over the past forty years these young black men have not been afforded the opportunity to be a part of American life. They have not been able to go to school or college. They have not been able to be traditional fathers, traditional husbands or traditional family members. They have not become entrepreneurs or employers or community leaders or participating citizens or voters. They have been disappeared for decades at a time and then returned as hollowed out shells of their former selves or of what could have been their future selves.

And they also return with a bagful of can’ts. They can’t get financial aid for education so they can’t get an education because they are ex-offenders. They can’t get public housing because they are ex-offenders. They can’t get employment because they have been in prison. They can’t get a loan to start a business because they have been in prison. In many states they can’t even get a license to drive a cab or be a barber because they have been in prison. They can’t. They can’t. They can’t.

It is no wonder that the death dance of violence and misogyny and nihilism has entrapped so many residents of the black communities of this country when so many of their neighbors, friends, fathers, husbands, sons and lovers are walking around with a bagful of can’ts. What should be a source of amazement and wonder is that there has been any success or progress in this toxic environment.

One can predict that more than a few conservatives will look at the footage of Baltimore on fire and blame it on President Obama. More than a few denizens of the right wing of the right wing will borrow a page from Richard Nixon’s playbook and use the images of an American city on fire as the justification for more punitive and harsher law enforcement. The echo of Nixon’s “law and order” clarion call will almost certainly be heard across this land.

And, of course, that will be like pouring gasoline on a raging fire. The cause of the fire is the repressive and regressive use of law enforcement that is unfair, racially biased and in too many instances, simply racist. The criminal justice system is the beast that consumes the hopes and dreams and aspirations of too many young black men (and increasingly, young black women).

And until that beast is tamed and controlled and trained to do what it is supposed to do – protect and serve………….all Americans – the flames in Baltimore will one day be seen as just the coming attraction for what will come.

Point of View Columns

Cuba Si! Finally!

On December 10, 1898, the Treaty of Paris which ended the Spanish-American War also granted the people of Cuba independence. However, from that day until January 1, 1959, the United States continued to alternatively treat Cuba as a colony, protectorate, playground and private plantation. Ironically, when Cuba achieved true independence; that is when the real conflict between Cuba and the United States began.

When Cuba achieved its true independence, first from Spain and then from the United States, the United States acted like a spoiled child that had been deprived of a favorite toy or plaything. And, despite the fact that this country has a long history of embracing its former enemies (England, Germany, Japan and Vietnam come to mind), there has been something about Cuba that has precluded reconciliation for over a half century.

The British committed war crimes during the American Revolution and the War of 1812. Thousands of American men, women and children were murdered, abused and subjected to incredible hardship as part of the military policy of the British. Yet Great Britain has become America’s closest ally and it is considered poor taste to reference past crimes.

During the Civil War that was started by the treasonous Confederate States of America. Over one million people died in that war – which represented 3 per cent of the country’s population at that time (that number would be over nine million today). At the conclusion of the war, even though a supporter of the CSA killed the President of the United States, even though the CSA was clearly guilty of war crimes like the death camp in Andersonville and the slaughter of black troops at Fort Pillow, despite all of these offenses (and many more) there were no mass war crime trials attempts at systemic punishment.

Despite all the justification for retribution there was Reconstruction instead. Despite the horrific results of the Civil War the former CSA states are allowed to fly their flag of rebellion and celebrate their treason without fear of punishment to this very day.

Total American casualties in World War II exceeded one million with over 400,000 members of the military killed. Yet, within a few years of the cessation of hostilities the United States helped to rebuild Japan and Germany, their defeated foes. Within 15 years Americans were buying Toyotas and Volkswagens and all was forgiven.

Over 200,000 members of the American military were killed or wounded in the Vietnam War. Today members of the American military wear clothing made in Vietnam and American tourists travel to Vietnam for holidays on a daily basis.

The People’s Republic of China is unapologetically communist. With a population of over one billion people it is clearly, and obviously, the largest communist country in the world. Yet China is also one of America’s largest trading partners and an embargo against that country would be unthinkable.

Although the current Cuban government has never attacked the United States (although the U.S. has attacked Cuba, i.e. The Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961) an embargo has been in place for over 50 years. The level of American governmental hostility and animosity directed against Cuba has the feel of a David and Goliath scenario except that this David has neither stone nor slingshot and this Goliath possesses nuclear weapons and the largest economy in the history of the planet.

There are so many reasons why the characterization of Cuba as an enemy of the United States is wrong and illogical. And that is why it is a sign of long overdue progress that, due to the leadership of President Obama, the commencement of diplomatic relations and the resumption of trade with Cuba has begun.

Progress long overdue is still progress.

Point of View Columns

The Lurking Demon and Murder by Cop

It is way past time that we learn to walk and chew gum at the same time. How many times can we endure witnessing the irony of “Black Lives Matter” signs being raised in protest every time a white police officer kills a black American while a few pitiful candles are lit on a street corner when a black person murders another black person?

The statistics are painfully eloquent on the matter. The homicide rate in the American white community is 2.2 per 100,000. The homicide rate in the American black community is 17 per 100,000. Further, 93% of the killers of black Americans are black Americans. The most useful FBI statistics indicate that white police officers kill black Americans about 100 times a year.

It is time that we must walk and chew gum simultaneously. In order to establish any hope of shared public safety and faith in the criminal justice system that every unlawful incident of murder by cop be prosecuted with appropriate punishment being part of the expected protocol.

But it is also just as important that the national black community respond with similar vigor and anger and energy every time that a black person kills another black person. Rationalizing these murders as being cause families does little or nothing to comfort the orphan or widow or parent who has to witness their loved one being placed six feet underground.

The glorification and glamorizing of murderous thug culture with entertainers running around with names like “Murdah” and “Al Capone” and “Young Thug” create a logical connection between destructive culture and destructive behavior. Accepting black people murdering black people as inevitable will doom the national black community to an existence of pervasive fear, violence and hopelessness.

Why is it that “Black Lives Matter” only when the killer is a white policeman? If black police officers were killing 5000 black people a year there would be daily marches and appeals to the United Nations to stop the obvious institutional genocide. But the facts are that black people are killing over 5000 black people every year and the protest and outrage is muted in comparison to the hue and cry over Ferguson and Staten Island and Cleveland and now North Charleston.

This is not to give a pass to state-sanctioned violence against black Americans. As has been noted in prior columns, the history of this country is stained by the racist murder of black Americans dating back to slavery and Jim Crow and lynching and the continuation of Murder by Cop. Every time a black person is killed under the color of law, the law itself is undermined and compromised. Every time a black person is killed by a police officer or vigilante (see George Zimmerman) the spirit of this country is diminished.

There can be no explanation, no rationalization and no justification for the carnage suffered by black Americans at the hands of officers of the law. But the carnage suffered by black Americans at the hands of black Americans is also horrible and the sheer number of deaths involved should arouse Americans of every hue to rise in opposition to this self-inflicted genocide.

It makes no sense to focus solely on Murder by Cop when the Lurking Monster continues to rampage through the national black community devouring men, women and children literally on a daily basis. It is possible; indeed it is imperative, that we rise up in protest to both categories of killings. After all, the victims of both outrages are just as dead and our voices of protest should be just a loud.

We simply must walk and chew gum at the same time.

Point of View Columns

Murder by Cop and the Lurking Demon

It seems as if the story is the same. Only the location and the names seem to change. This time it is South Carolina. This time a white policeman shoots an unarmed black man in the back and kills him. This time the demon lurks in the background. The only difference, this time there was a videotape of the entire atrocity.

When North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager shot Walter Scott in the back eight times on a Saturday morning, he was continuing the dreadful American legacy of lethal violence against black Americans under the color of law. This incident recalls recent murders by cop in Cleveland, Ferguson and Staten Island. But it also recalls the historical tradition of black Americans being subject to lethal consequences simply because they are black Americans.

And all the while the demon lurks.

It bears repeating that since this part of the world was colonized by Europeans, Americans of African descent were always subject to a different set of laws. From the black codes to the legalization of slavery, the lives of black people in this country have always been worth less than white lives. And killing black people has resulted in little or no consequence on countless occasions.

Even after the abolition of slavery, the legally sanctioned terrorism against black Americans continued to be the sad and tragic soundtrack supporting the American narrative. One need go further than to read “Without Sanctuary – Lynching Photography in America”, by James Allen, to witness the tragic banality of evil that was a part of black life in America, as it was also a very real part of white life in America. And whether the next unlawful slaying of a black American under the color of lawful conduct takes place in Missouri or Ohio or New York or………South Carolina, history tells us that it will not be the last time.

Meanwhile, the demon lurks.

Perhaps the most appalling aspect of the death of Walter Scott is that without the video of his slaughter, Officer Slager’s lies would have been the facts that accompanied Mr. Scott to what would have been his soon to be forgotten grave. Without the chance glimpse of his barbaric acts, Officer Slager would be on duty in North Charleston, as if nothing had happen. And that raises a rather obvious question.

How many other black men and women have been slain under the color of law without a video record? And how many of these silent witnesses to their own demise are unable to claim justice because the blue web of lies and misinformation  has placed a shroud over their corpses and has shielded their killers?

Meanwhile the demon lurks.

And that demon is the slaughter of black Americans by other black Americans. According to FBI data, there were 6309 black homicide victims in the U.S. in 2011. The homicide rate for black victims was 17.51 per 100,000. The national overall homicide rate was 4.44 per 100,000. For whites, the national homicide rate was 2.64 per 100,000. And finally, 93 per cent of the killers of black Americans were black Americans.

If 6309 black people were being killed by the police every year there would be righteous indignation. But 5500 black people being killed by black people are not viewed as the public health and public morality issue that it is. The fact that the homicide rate in the black community is 8 times higher than that found in the white community is the demon lurking behind every story of a black person dying from murder by cop.

Being outraged about murder by cops and being outraged about black carnage in the black community are not mutually exclusive. No purpose is served in trying to compare atrocities. All atrocities are atrocities and all atrocities should be denounced and stopped. The orphan, the widow, the grieving parent doesn’t care whether the killer wears a uniform or sneakers. Their pain has no limits.

It is long past the time for us to walk and chew gum at the same time and confront both ddeof these horrific realities every day.