Point of View Columns

The Eternal Requiem

The crime of “Living While Black” has been part of the American criminal justice system since colonial times. Every black man, woman and child in this country is subject to indictment. The punishment for this crime has taken the form of housing discrimination, employment bias and all too many times death. Sometimes it is a slow death occasioned by factors such as environmental racism (see Flint, Michigan) and sometimes the death sentence is carried out by a policeman’s gun.

The recent roll call of Americans of African descent that has died at the hands of police or while in police custody seems never ending because it is never ending. The names of men, women and children who could have been famous for their good deeds, who could have remained anonymous in the ordinary pursuit of ordinary happiness, are known to us because they are dead.

Children like Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin, women like Eleanor Bumphurs and Sandra Bland and men like Eric Garner, Freddie Gray and Sean Bell are known to us only because they suffered the death sentence imposed for the crime of “Living While Black”. And just now, two more names are added to the eternal requiem – Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Philando Castile in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Mr. Sterling and Mr. Castile should be alive as this column is being read. They are dead because white police officers murdered them. We know that they were murdered and not killed incidental to some criminal act because there is real time video that undeniably reveals those Baton Rouge and St. Paul police officers to be murderers.

And we also know that without the real time video evidence Alton Sterling and Philando Castile would join the countless and anonymous men, women and children who have been killed by the police without witness. And we have to wonder what the real body count is in the reign of terror that targets black Americans everywhere in America?

There are the predictable calls for quiet and restraint in the national black community – and there is simply no reason for black Americans to kill each other and burn down their own homes – or anyone else’s home – upon the commission of another outrage. But we wait, not so quietly and definitely impatiently for calls for quiet and restraint to be exercised by police officers. We wait not so quietly and definitely impatiently for members of the criminal justice system – police officers, district attorneys, prosecutors – to righteously and vociferously condemn this Blue Carnage which afflicts the national black community.

The tears of the parents of the dead, the orphans of the dead, the lovers and spouses and partners of the dead drench the earth of this nation. Justice delayed is no justice at all. And in the case of Blue Carnage, the justice that is called for is not simply convicting the police officers who pulled the trigger. True justice will include and transformation of the criminal justice system so that “Living While Black” is no longer a crime and every black, woman and child is not an automatic suspect.

True justice will mean an end to mass incarceration, but it will also mean an end to the state sanctioned dehumanization of the black community. True justice will mean that black parents will not have to teach their nine year old boys and girls how to avoid being killed by the police. True justice will mean that black teenagers should be able to be as silly and outrageous on 125th Street as white teenagers on Spring Break in Florida without those being death defying acts.

And finally, true justice will be known to all of us when the foul heritage of the Black Codes and race-based slavery and Jim Crow and state sponsored segregation and serial lynching is finally and absolutely condemned by every sentient being in this country. It when that true justice is made known that this nation can begin to actually aspire to the high ideals and aspirations that were so eloquently stated at the inception of the Republic.

These high ideals and aspirations have become museum pieces instead of being the living, breathing heritage and culture of all Americans. Only True Justice and change that.

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