(Opinion) Any Black person in this country who wasn’t pained in some way by the recent events surrounding the recent Ferguson, and now Staten Island, debacles of justice should have their head examined. Seriously, what is a rational Black man supposed to do in these days and times? As a journalist, my ability and right to protest wrongdoings by state, local and federal government officials and bodies is protected by the Constitution of the United States of America. However, many who have been afforded with this same ability chose not to speak a word, preferring instead to prattle on about award shows and reality television. But what of those who do not have the ability to speak out against such travesty as that witnessed by the entire country when St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCullough stepped up to a podium and basically blamed Mike Brown, Jr. for his own death at the hands of Officer Darren Wilson?
Immediately following the announcement of this mockery of justice was a rather bland speech given by President Barack Obama in which he called for peace and calm, as was also the case in past speeches given in the wake of the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer George Zimmerman. Once again, he railed on about following the letter of the law and how we should all let cooler heads prevail. However, the thinking man can plainly see that calm and orderly protests in a tactical, rather than strategic, manner are useless. When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is recalled in the modern lexicon he is often portrayed as the paramour of non-violent protest. However, it was done so with the calculating mind of a General.
In those dark times, protestors faced overt racism that was wholly supported by local and state governmental authorities. Death was a far more likely outcome of those noble non-violent protestors of yesteryear than for those of the modern era. However, those deaths went a long way toward melting the cold and apathetic hearts of the American populous. At the end of the day, King’s efforts were successful in helping to secure basic civil rights for people of color including voter registration and legislation to protect those rights. In addtion, his efforts became a focal point for civil rights that was more palatable to the American public over the willingness to take up arms in self-defense that was preached by other groups. Ironically, upon the death of this earthly provocateur of peace came a wave of destructive riots that wreaked havoc on many of the nation’s predominantly African American urban centers; many of these city centers have only recently recovered from these riots within the last decade or so.
Today, as the town of Ferguson, Missouri still smolders from the riots that were wrought when no indictment was brought against Darren Wilson, many in the African American community are seething over the scenes of destruction that have been broadcast across the country by every major television news outlet. As was the case in the destructive wave of rioting that swept the country in the 1960s, a great deal of the destruction has taken place in areas populated by Black people. Thus, the services and financially viable businesses that once peppered the area have either been completely destroyed, irreparably damaged or looted into bankruptcy. While it is completely understandable that the voice of many African Americans is consternation as far as the looting is concerned, what many fail to address is the fact that it is virtually impossible to loot or commit arson and participate in a protest, non-violent or otherwise, with stolen goods on your person.
Yet the Charles Barkley's of the world have you believe the protestors, rioters, looters and arsonits are from the same pool of people.
The individuals responsible for these things are destructive opportunists. Standing as the antithesis to the tenets behind the “Broken Window” policy being incorporated by law enforcement officials across the nation, the lack of security for these businesses caused by a significantly decreased police presence, resulted in many taking advantage of anonymity in numbers, leading to looting and violence invited by shattered glass and broken doors.
Though this writer has yet come to surmise or comprehend the logic behind burning businesses to the ground, it seems the manner in which the police prepared for the riots (with checkpoints and barricades as opposed to presenting as normal a presence as possible) conpromised their ability to respond to these crimes and may have provided nefarious individuals the time to break a window or jar a door, giving opportunistic criminals an opportunity to temporarily bolster their economic standing.
Unfortunately, many will only exacerbate their own family’s poverty level by ultimately being arrested and incarcerated for their actions.
My own family history was significantly altered by the Trenton (NJ) Riot of 1969 when my Grandfather’s business was looted and the building he owned was destroyed by looters, and the insurance company claimed he wasn’t covered and refused to pay. The loss of years of potential income affected my family’s financial stability for decades afterwards. So it's clear to me that neither protesting in a kneejerk manner nor rioting and looting are the answers to the societal ills of racism and classism that infest this country, including the virulent instances of death by police brutality or excessive force that has been long plagued the African American community.
As was the case during Dr. King’s time, the only hope for change is for protestors to draw the attention and sympathy of the viewing public. But it would appear that the American public has soured on confronting issues of race and class, preferring instead to banish such thought as demagoguery, blaming white people and complaining.
As a man of African descent who can trace his lineage back to the Reconstruction Era of the post-Civil War South, my family history is filled with instances of triumph over insurmountable odds, just as most American families have. However, I would dare say there has never been another group of people in the history of the United States that has done so much with so little like Black people.
Historically, many in the majority have been violently opposed at the very idea of a Black person being treated as an unfettered equal among the many strands of the American tapestry. Though there are certainly some who will balk at the severity of such things in modern times, the manner in which matters of race and class proliferate the media news cycle causes us to beg to differ.
Trayvon Martin’s death at the hands of George Zimmerman under the guise of law enforcement and the shooting of former Florida A&M University football player Jonathan Ferrell at the hands of a police officer. Eric Garner dying at the hands of the NYPD, John Crawford at the hands of the police in Ohio, Ezell Ford at the hands of the LAPD, the shooting of Dante Parker of Victorville, California, the police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio and the shooting death of Akai Gurley of Brooklyn, NY. All have several shameful communalities; each is an unarmed Black person who was killed by the police. Though we must concede that witnesses called police on Crawford and Rice for allegedly making menacing gestures with firearms that turned out to be a pellet gun in both instances, it is debatable whether officers in either instance were diligent in accessing the true threat level of either individual before firing.
Nevertheless, seven unarmed African American males are dead and only one of the police officers involved in these deadly encounters has been indicted. To add insult to injury, this afternoon a grand jury in New York declined to indict police officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner.
As has been the case throughout our nation’s history, law enforcement officials who kill citizens in the line of duty rarely face any criminal charges. Though it is difficult to quantify, that rate likely increases for police officers who kill African American males in the line of duty. President Barack Obama called for calm on the streets of Ferguson following the announcement that there would be no indictment and urged that everyone respect the rule of law.
“The African American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws -- everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws. And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.” -President Barack Obama (July 19, 2013)
“First and foremost, we are a nation built on the rule of law. And so we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make. There are Americans who agree with it, and there are Americans who are deeply disappointed, even angry.” - President Barack Obama (November 24, 2014)
In his speech following the acquittal of George Zimmerman in July 2013 the President told America of the Black man in America’s history of having discriminatory practices being visited upon them by the criminal justice system. In the speech following the announcement that Darren Wilson would not be indicted, President Obama urged protestors to remain calm and that we need to accept the decision while conceding that the decision was deeply disappointing to many Americans.
The former paragraph gleaned from Mr. Obama’s speech seems to acknowledge the historically lopsided nature the law has been administered on against people of African descent in America while the latter is urging the largely Black, millennial protestors in Ferguson to follow the rule of law and respect the outcome of the Grand Jury. The sum of each appears to be telling us to respect the rule of law while acknowledging that Blacks get screwed over by it on a regular basis.
In fact, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that Black defendants without resources to secure their own defense will be convicted in a court of law far more often than ethnicities with the same amount of resources and similar charges.
With this in mind, why should a people who have had historic issues with the law and law enforcement be patient with those who administer these laws in such a discriminatory manner?
Because we actually don’t have a choice, truthfully. No racial or ethnic group of people is quite as dependent on the federal, state and local governmental bodies to protect life, limb and property nor is any other group quite as vulnerable to racism either.
There is no “homeland” to return to that would accept us in mass without significant conflict, there’s no cultural cohesiveness or bonding language among the descendants of former slaves in America. The harsh reality is that we have to confront racism head on in a firestorm of constant denial of its existence and significance by many, including a significant number of African Americans. But the means to that glorious end are limited. Non-violent and persistent protesting is the only thing that has worked. However, the results are often slow in coming, if at all. For those who blame the African American’s voter turnout as the reason for their own demise, I offer you this.
African American voter turnout has steadily increased since 1994 while the turnout of every other ethnic group has taken a downward turn over the same time frame. For example, Asian American voters are far less likely to vote than any other group. Black voter percentage are more than 10 points higher. The only group that still has greater voter turnout than people of African descent in America are white Americans. Despite the increased turnout, Black voters are consistently getting less and less from their elected officials, many of whom believe the Black vote is a foregone conclusion. Sadly, there are many who speak as if they are allies yet parrot the ideas and verbiage of those who clearly are not.
Republican MSNBC journalist Joe Scarborough recently went on a tirade regarding the media coverage surrounding of the Michael Brown case and the subsequent unrest in Ferguson. Again, just as was the case with prosecutor Robert McCullough when he gave his tepid excuse as to the failure to win an indictment against Darren Wilson, Michael Brown’s theft of a box of cigars is seen as the reason why his death was his own volition, and a blind belief that Wilson, a six foot 4 inch, 230ish pound grown ass hand-to-hand trained policeman with a gun, a baton, and backup on the way, would ever feel like a “five-year-old man against Hulk Hogan” even when you consider Brown’s considerable 6ft 6in, 280 pound stature. Makes me wonder what kind of cop he really is.
Officers are trained and drilled to immediately take command of even the most mundane circumstances. If all else fails, he always has his gun and help on the way, right? According to Wilson’s own Grand Jury testimony, he was not the aggressor and responded in self-defense. Then, after initially running away from the scuffle near the driver side door of his police cruiser, Brown ran after being wounded by gunfire, only to stop and turnaround, then angrily charge in a “demonic” manner to be gunned down in a ten-bullet hail storm. Really?
That’s their story, and the fact that the Prosecutor McCullough, a man who Missouri Senator Jamilah Nasheed, Rev. Al Sharpton and Brown’s parents urged Governor Jay Nixon to remove from the case on grounds of objectivity from the very beginning, agreed with it makes one question the entire investigation and legal proceeding.
As a Black man, it stinks of the saddest, sickest, example of racist legal trickery, but the whole thing is legal. This makes it difficult to adhere to the President's words of respecting the rule of law when it is a verifiable, documented and stated fact that Blacks are especially vulnerable to its missteps, aggression and lapses in judgment. We realize that the truth will always favor others in the narrative of the red, white and blue.
When Michael Brown’s stepfather Louis Head yelled out in anguish immediately following the announcement, I felt for him. “Burn this (expletive) down” he is alleged to have said. He’s currently under investigation by the Ferguson Police Department for inciting a riot. Though he has since clarified and apologized, and the fact that looting and acts of arson broke out spontaneously as confirmed by the Governor, they just might spitefully pen those charges on him.
Meanwhile, cops. Others have joined in, including Democrats and police officers. Saddest of all is that far too many Black people are saying it’s black people’s fault they keep getting shot. All the while, the historical racism inherent in the entire system is ignored and the media and law enforcement continually drum up the narrative of the violent, sociopathic, irresponsible Black person as the norm rather than the exception, thus a danger to all.
As the father of an autistic 16-year-old son and a 7-year-old son of my own namesake, these facts chill my soul to know my oldest son is a misunderstood gesture or utterance away from being shot by the police or some other so-called well-intentioned American citizen simply because his skin color makes him more menacing to white people. No amount of protesting or rioting is going to change that. Not now and not likely in the immediate future. The St. Louis Rams hands up salute, the Congressional Black Caucus hands up salute, President Obama’s $263 million allotment of funds to equip the nation’s law enforcement with cameras and the rioting and looting; they all fall short of that sobering fact.
The sad reality is that skin color will dictate rules, actions and reactions, especially for black men. It's a fact that we have to acknowledge and teach to our sons every day. It's one we cannot hide from, nor can we afford to. Yet after these two most recent judicial deicions, it makes it more challenging to for us to instill and preach.
So if the past year is an indication of what is to come, Black people and their descendants are most likely going to need many, many, many hugs along the way.