For Americans of African descent involved in, and in remembrance of, individuals who have risked their lives as members of the Black resistance in America, the month of August is hallowed and sacred. Initially coined in the California prison system in memoriam of freedom fighters Jonathan Jackson, George Jackson, William Christmas, James McClain and Khatari, individuals who were either killed while carrying out actions of Black Liberation against the state, falsely incarcerated as political prisoners or died under questionable circumstances at the hands of the state. Since its initial conception, Black August has been expanded to encompass the very spirit of Black resistance against institutionalized racism and has been expanded to celebrate the birthdays of author James Baldwin and Cuban leader Fidel Castro, Fred Hampton and Mutulu Shakur, tragedies such as the murder of Emmett Till, Hurricane Katrina, uprisings in Cincinnati, Watts and Athens, AL, the death of Mike Brown, Jr. and the rebirth of the Black Resistance movement in the Midwest and throughout the United States.
Unlike Black History Month, Black August is malleable and ever growing as a thing permanently connected to the modern dialectic for struggle against oppression, the past and the future. The birthday of Marcus Garvey, the death day of W.E.B. DuBois and many, many other days of importance occurred in August, and continue to proliferate in the 8 month in modern times as well. Here are other notable events that occurred in the month of August:
-The first Africans were brought to Jamestown as slaves in August of 1619.
-Gabriel Prosser’s slave rebellion occurred on August 30th, 1800.
-The Nat Turner planned and executed a slave rebellion that commenced on August 21, 1831.
-In 1843, Henry Highland Garnett called a general slave strike on August 22.
-The Underground Railroad was started on August 2, 1850.
-The March on Washington occurred in August of 1963.
-The Watts rebellions were in August of 1965.
-On August 18, 1971 the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika (RNA) was raided by Mississippi police and FBI agents.
It was these highly-publicized deaths and the subsequent protests under the banner of Black Lives Matter that have served as a catalyst for the current air of change in the United States. However, it is a misnomer to believe that these killings in and of themselves have galvanized us. It is also the callous reaction of local municipalities and the cold realization that these types of killings are a part of the American policing experience that sends chills through us all. Any of us could be killed at any time by a fidgety, flinching, over-worked and sometimes cowardly police officer who would just as soon pull a trigger on a Black boogeyman than allow his eyes and mind to link up and discern if there is a real threat.
On August 9, 2014 teenager Mike Brown, Jr. was shot during a confrontation with then Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson. The circumstances of his death were disputed by many eye witnesses, who say his arms were up in surrender, and Wilson, who said he feared for his life and that Brown was charging toward him. Brown was hit six times with a fiery barrage and died almost instantly. However, his body was left to lie in the street for hours before being removed. Meanwhile, his parents were left traumatized by the callous nature in which his remains were left in the street to be brutalized by the Midwest summer sun.
That day residents of Ferguson were galvanized by images of Brown’s corpse lying uncovered and disrespected on the hot asphalt and took to the streets in numbers the police claim were in the thousands.
A subsequent grand jury compiled by prosecutor Robert McCulloch decided Wilson’s acts were justifiable on November 14, 2014.
Following the announcement by McCulloch, whose objectivity was called into question from the very beginning, thousands of activists, marchers and supporters from across the globe merged on the town of Ferguson, Missouri to draw the world’s attention to what was deemed a travesty of justice
That decision prompted a wave of protest, accompanied by rioting and looting on the fringes of the mass of people, which was broadcast around across the globe.
At the 2015 anniversary gathering and march commemorating the death of Brown and the recognition of the activists, protesters and sympathizers gave their time and voice to draw attention to the injustice and a disgusting American pastime.
This time was supposed to be different. This time was supposed to be more organized. This time was supposed to be more family friendly. This time everyone was supposed to be a year wiser for the mistakes that were made last year.
What started as a weekend of peaceful protesting ended in violence.What started as a weekend of peaceful protesting ended in violence.
On August 7, 14-year-old Radazz Hearns was shot seven times by plainclothes police officers who jumped out of a van following reports of shots being fired in the area.
Witnesses say Hearns and two other friends were walking along Louise Lane and Calhoun St in Trenton’s North Ward, oblivious to the knowledge that they were being stalked by New Jersey State Police and a Mercer County Sherriff officer.
As per their modus operandi, officers jumped out of an unmarked van, guns drawn, and Hearns panicked and ran. Cops say he reached for a gun, bystanders say he was pulling up his pants, and 14-year-old Radazz Hearns was shot 7 times. He’s currently alive and in stable condition.
This hit close to home for me as I lived and played in that neighborhood as a youth before moving with my family to the Wilbur Section area in east Trenton.
When I was a teenager growing up in the area we used to call the police in these units the "Jump Out Boys" because they would jump out of anything; vans, UPS trucks, PSE & G trucks, you name it. Most of the time it was DEA, FBI or New Jersey State Troopers who perfected this method as part of the Weed & Seed program as part of D.A.R.E., first started in 1991.
I wasn’t a person who hung out on corners or in one place a lot, but it didn’t matter. If the "Jump Out Boys" were in the vicinity it was best to keep moving. In studying the circumstances surrounding Radazz Hearns I am reminded of the satin starter jacket era (early 90s) and how scared we would be as "The Boys" were known to roam in search of drug dealers, or anything young and Black or Brown that was in the streets between 8:00 pm and 12:00 am on a Wednesday night.
If you got caught up, innocent or not, you got hemmed up.
I rarely got accosted thanks to taking advantage of the other dynamic of that program, the Weed & Seed recreational basketball program. But that was over at 9:00 pm and anything could happen on the way home and sometimes did.
So it’s not hard for me to believe that Radazz would run not out of guilt but fear of frightening, muscle-bound, body armor clad white boys jumping out of a van and screaming at him.
Radazz Hearns lives despite being fired upon with extreme prejudice. Some witnesses claimed no gun was found by law enforcement initially. However, the police say they found .22 caliber handgun near where Hearns was shot, 12 hours later, and they say they have an eye witness who did see Radazz draw a weapon.
Now, for having the resilience and audacity to be alive, Hearns has been charged with aggravated assault and possession of a defaced weapon.
Police say a fire truck that provided light at the crime scene was parked on top of it. Assuming the fire truck was on the scene for four hours immediately following the shooting to assist in the search for evidence, one wonders the gun wasn’t located sooner in such a heavily trafficked area. Since then, GoFundMe has removed the effort to raise funds for Hearns. Meanwhile, just as I was attempting to put this particular story to bed, in comes news of another police involved shooting in St. Louis.
After turning in earlier than usual the night before, I awoke to news reports of turmoil in St. Louis, militarized police presence, tear gas and another dead Black man.
Police say 18-year-old Mansur Ball-Bey attempted to run during a raid in North St. Louis, then turned to point a handgun at officers before he was shot four times. He died at the scene. Local media reports that around 100 people gathered near where Ball-Bey was killed and protested the shooting. A vacant building and a car were set on fire, yet if one were using the broader media lens to tell the tale you would think the entire city burned to the ground.
Also, a myriad of reporters felt it was necessary to report North St. Louis was a high crime area and quote the murder rate for the area over the last two years, none of which have anything to do with the story of a man shot dead by police. The readers should readily be able to discern the state of the area by the simple fact that a raid was taking place. Any additional information regarding the crime in the area is only meant to sway the reader as to Mansur Ball-Bey’s culpability in his own death. Dastardly, manipulative and par for the course as far as the mainstream media and Black men are concerned.
Family members say Ball-Bey had no police record, was going to college and was working part-time at FedEx at the time of his death. However, family members have also found themselves defending photos of Mansur lying in bed with a gun near his pillow on social media, as well as the name of his rap group-Trackistan Mafia. All circumstantial, but all damning when taken out of context.
And they will be.
If it were a kid of a different background who wasn’t Black or Brown many would say such things are quaint and “American” but a Black man with Arabic elements to his name?
He’s instantly guilty.
(Update: The New York Times is reporting the autopsy results reveal Bell-Bey was shot through the back with a single shot. Family members say his body was found two houses from where the raid was taking place. He was struck through a major artery, according to the coroner's office, and would have collapsed almost immediately and not have been able to run anywhere. This is in direct conflict with the official police story that says Bell-Bey ran after being struck.)
Yet, some in his community and others across the country find a theory of him being unarmed and misrepresented after his death to be very plausible. The facts notwithstanding, perception is reality for most of us.
Police say they were bombarded by bottles and rocks as the protesters ignored their requests to clear a path and get out of the street. Police in riot gear were dispatched and used tear gas in abundance to accomplish this goal. Local residents say they were gassed unexpectedly, excessively and without warning. Some people say the gas was so thick they had to flee their homes. For their part, the St. Louis PD are unapologetic regarding Ball-Bey’s death and the tear gas chemical weapon used against the residents of the community.
The commonalities between Mike Brown, Jr., Radazz Hearns and now Mansur Ball-Bey are immediately apparent to this writer. Three young Black males from depressed economic situations who were shot by law enforcement, then depicted as criminals after the fact. Not to sound like a Facebook meme, but mass murdering terrorist Dillon Ruff gets Burger King while Black males are immediately resigned to criminality.
It is then that I am reminded of an interview I did with actor Jesse Williams in June of this year.
"The nation’s reaction is always contrived when it comes to the strangulation and subjugation of people of color. It’s state policy. It’s always the same thing. It never changes. We can do this every month or every week, it’s been that way for centuries," said Williams when asked of America's contrived reaction to the terrorist shootings in Charleston, SC.
"They’ll somehow contort themselves to say how this 21-year-old person is a kid and Tamir Rice (13-years-old) is a man. This version of the Black bogeyman is going to get you and needs to be put down. White supremacy works this way, nothing can take away humanity from White people, Black people have no humanity.”
A question often asked by those who wish to demean the Black Lives Matter Movement is why the Black community doesn’t turn this same energy into combating Black-on-Black crime, as was the case in this article at Fox.com. However, their cynical nature is quickly made plain when we realize the obvious difference is the prosecution and conviction of the accused.
The vast majority of Black criminals are convicted, the vast majority of those who commit crimes in the line of duty are not.
It could be that the police departments of Trenton and St. Louis, respectively, are correct in their assessments of both Hearns and Ball-Bey having brandished firearms. However, historically speaking, the scales of justice have been slanted against poor Blacks for so long and so viciously that nothing authorities say will ring with any truth to the masses in these communities. To them, the guilt of the system is evident.
Then, when you look at the August 14 release date of the critically-acclaimed film Straight Outta Compton, and all of its message of rebellion in the face of overzealous policing, you realize there are fewer coincidences in the universe than you may have thought a year ago, a decade ago, or a lifetime ago.