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 have 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 roll call – 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 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 transformation of the criminal justice system so that “Living While Black” is no longer a capital crime and every black, woman and child is not an automatic suspect and potential victim.

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 silly and outrageous becoming 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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Point of View Columns

In Search of a Happy New Year

It is that time of the year when the champagne glasses are chilled and the confetti is bagged and ready for release. Resolutions are being listed and the anticipation of 2016 far outweighs the most unpleasant memories of 2015. But for some, actually for too many, 2016 will not and cannot be a Happy New Year. For some, for too many, the deaths of loved ones due to inexplicable and inexcusable gunfire cloud the dawn of the New Year, and that of every New Year that may follow.

Freddie Gray may not have led the most distinguished life, but he was someone’s child and did not deserve to die in the custody of the Baltimore Police Department. His family and those who loved him still await some measure of justice. Tamir Rice was a child who had yet to live his life and he was summarily executed by a member of the Cleveland Police Department who, we have learned, will not be indicted for any criminal charges. The parents of Tamir Rice will never know him as a man and, as of now, will never know even a small measure of justice after unspeakable tragedy.

Dylan Roof was not a member of any law enforcement agency, but he enforced the Law of the Gun, slaughtering nine black worshippers in South Carolina even as they prayed. Tyshawn Lee was gunned down by demented gangbangers on the meanest streets of Chicago and his small corpse was added to the endless awful body count.

The toll of death by gun in the national black community can only be displayed on a crazed kaleidoscopic scoreboard when the numbers only go up while dreams and hopes go to hell. And all the while a dollar-driven interpretation of the Second Amendment to the Constitution keeps the industrial spigot spewing rifles and pistols and shotguns and automatic pistols and machine guns into the streets – and so the blood continues to flow in the streets.

The Black Lives Matter Movement began, not to identify the lives of black Americans as exceptional, but rather to make sure that black lives are not an exception in the national conversation about lives mattering. Certainly, a review of the history of the United States does not lead to an automatic conclusion that black lives matter.

Indeed, there are far too many actions by government and the private sector that have led to mass incarceration, limited life expectancy and limited life aspirations to automatically conclude that black lives do matter. And, there is also the dismaying and depressing reality that too often black Americans act as if black lives do not matter – a state of mind that is reflected in murder, mayhem and disrespect that is directed at other black people.

And so, as the New Year approaches, it remains to be seen whether it will be an unhappy one for even more people. For those already cloaked in sadness and despair we can hope that there are tomorrows which will reveal that the sun of expectation will again shine for them. Of course it will take more than hope….it will take a national change of mind. It will take a national change of heart. Indeed the heart and soul of this country will have to change for there to be any real chance of a Happy New Year.

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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.

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