06 September, 2014

Carry it On!

New American Standard Bible                       Micah 6:8
 “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

In the eulogy for Michael Brown, Reverend Sharpton, began with the above Biblical reference. For believers this should be a compelling guide to proper conduct, but like other wise words it seems to get lost in the transmission. How complicated is the good?  Not very it seems: do justice, love kindness, and show humility.  These three things are possible for us all, but they are not common practice. Not only can we do better, we must do better.

Those who must do better, in this case includes all Americans. It does not pertain only to Black Americans, White Americans, Hispanic Americans or any subgroup of Americans. Every one of us who has ever been proud to be an American and who has ever claimed to love America must put the words into action and once and for all become the people we have always boasted of being.

One hundred and fifty years have passed since the Emancipation Proclamation and America is still a house divided. Now, however, it is more divided than ever. The political process is infested with internal subversion from a group of Neoconfederates who want to roll back the elapsed century and a half. Religious fundamentalists and seditious proponents of Posse Comitatus are driving fissures throughout the culture. One faction rejects science and the other one denies the legitimacy of the federal government.  Despite all these centrifugal forces, Americans of goodwill must remember and defend the principles and purposes that form the basis of the Republic and our birthright as citizens.
As Reverend Sharpton said, “We must turn our chants into change and turn our demonstration into legislation.” It is time to turn the tragic moment into a dynamic movement. We must, once again, “Carry it on”.

“There's a man by my side walking
There's a voice within me talking,
There's a voice, within me saying,
Carry on, carry it on.”

Literally or figuratively, each of us must see the person beside us walking; we must hear the voice within us talking, and the word within us saying: Carry on, Carry it on! Over the course of nearly two and one half centuries, Americans have basked in the glow of noble ideals. Many acts of heroism have been committed on behalf of these uplifting premises and enduring purposes. Nonetheless, we, as a people, have been nowhere near as good as our words. In a nation founded on the premises of human equality and unalienable rights, a large proportion of the population was enslaved.

This moral contradiction persisted until the internecine blood bath known as the Civil War drowned it out. After nearly four years of war committing families against families and section against section, the Slave Power was defeated and actual, legalized slavery was destroyed. It was only a short time, however, that the bigotry nurtured in the Slave Power reasserted itself and ushered in nearly a century of unabashed White Supremacy and rampant race-based injustice under the general caption – Jim Crow.

Almost as soon as the guns fell silent in the Civil War, Southern states instituted a practice known as “convict leasing.”  This scheme essentially restored slavery and provided "one of the harshest and most exploitative labor systems known in American history." Due to zealous and selective law enforcement and biased sentencing, African Americans, mostly adult males, made up the vast majority—but not all—of the convicts leased. Douglas A. Blackmon describes convict leasing as follows: “a system in which armies of free men, guilty of no crimes and entitled by law to freedom, were compelled to labor without compensation, were repeatedly bought and sold, and were forced to do the bidding of white masters through the regular application of extraordinary physical coercion.” It is vital to note that this practice peaked in 1880 through 1928, but actually persisted until 1944 when Mississippi finally abandoned it.

They will tell their empty stories,
Send their dogs to bite our bodies,
They will lock us up in prison,
Carry on, carry it on.

Perpetrators of oppression and racial injustice will lie and propagandize. They will provide disinformation rather than information; they will impugn the character of the victims of injustice and extol the virtue of the purveyors of injustice. They will use dogs, fire hoses, rubber bullets, tear gas and laser sighting to harm or threaten those who protest. They will arbitrarily imprison and unfairly intimidate protesters and those covering the protests.

“The people of Ferguson and those in solidarity with them took to the streets within a context of racial repression broader than just one horrific shooting. Between 2005 and 2012, African-Americans have been killed by white police officers at the rate of nearly twice a week. In the month preceding Brown’s slaying, police in this country killed at least four unarmed black men. And in a state like Missouri, African-American drivers are the targets of 92 percent of vehicle searches conducted by police, even though illegal items are found in less than 25 percent of these searches.” This zealous and selective law enforcement persists until this day. Black men are imprisoned at wildly disproportionate rates. For White males, roughly 1 in 106 are incarcerated versus 1 in 15 for African American males and 1 in 36 for Hispanic males. Although Black and Brown people are roughly 30 percent of the general population, they are 60 percent of the prison population. “African Americans were twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police.” 

Furthermore, African American women are imprisoned three times more often than white women although women are generally imprisoned at low rates overall.

These disparities in the criminal justice system also deprive Black Americans of their civil rights in many insidious ways. 5.3 million Americans are denied the right to vote based on a past felony conviction. Racial disparities in felony conviction in the criminal-justice system, ultimately denies 13 percent of African American men the right to vote. Such policies have resulted in 11 states denying the right to vote to over 10 percent of their African American population.

This zealous and selective law enforcement, mass imprisonment and consequent over-representation of minorities within the criminal justice and prison system; have imposed an adverse impact on people of color and on their communities. American citizens have met barriers to reintegration into society and to engagement in the democratic process. “Eliminating the racial disparities inherent to our nation’s criminal-justice policies and practices must be at the heart of a renewed, refocused, and re-energized movement for racial justice in America.”

When you can't go on any longer,
Take the hand, hand of your brother,
Every victory brings another,
Carry it on, carry it on.
Carry on, carry it on.

At the heart of racial profiling lurks a presumption of guilt and danger that is unjustly applied to every black person living in America. This changes the relationships among the citizenry and of a portion of the citizenry with authorities.  Black Americans must be on guard against challenges, confrontations, and charges, in a way utterly unfamiliar to White Americans. “Racial profiling does long-term damage to the self-image, self-esteem and ego of the African American,” and it does pervasive damage to the unity and vitality of the body politic. While we White Americans have not directly experienced this toxic suspicion and simmering hostility, we know it exists unless we are willfully ignorant or consumed with prejudice.  Brief reflection would make it clear this situation is neither just nor beneficial. If we do not unite with our fellow Americans to seek and destroy this persistent malady, it will mortally sicken the nation we claim to love.

As you read these words, consider for a moment, actions each of us can take to help expunge the affliction of racial bigotry from our society. March in solidarity, write to our state and national representatives, speak out at city council and school board meetings, blog or write to editors of periodicals, the options are as diverse as each of us. The only thing we must not do is to sit silently by, and to let the death of Michael Brown become just another statistic in a depressing list of them. 

The picture below shows twenty-four people either killed by police or who died in police custody under dubious circumstances over a period of twenty-four years. 

In addition, many other citizens have been subjected to harassment, false imprisonment, and various indignities mainly because they were Black. Selective, overzealous, law enforcement affects Black women as well as Black males.  Alberta Spruill, a 57-year-old New York City employee who was just about to leave for her job, died shortly after a battering ram broke down her apartment door and a flash grenade was heaved into the apartment at 6:00 a. m. The cops handcuffed the quiet church-going Black woman, who tells them she has a heart condition. An ambulance was finally dispatched at 6:32 a. m. Upon arrival at the hospital at 8 a.m., an hour and a half later, Alberta was pronounced dead. What did police find in her apartment? Nothing – no guns, no drugs, and no vicious dogs – they were in the wrong place if there even was a right place. This raid was wrong from the start and the way it was conducted displayed no concern for the human beings inside the targeted apartment.

Kametra Barbour, a mother of three children ages 6, 8, and 9, was pulled over by police in Forney, Texas, following up on a 911 call. The caller described a tan or brown Toyota with four Black males waving a gun. Ms. Barbour drives a burgundy Nissan, is a woman, and had three children and no guns in the car. Despite this, police claimed she and her children “fit the description.”  The only thing Ms. Barbour and her children had in common with the caller’s description was that they were Black. http://www.msnbc.com/politicsnation/watch/mother-mistakenly-handcuffed-by-police-323448899852?cid=eml_mpn_20140902

To paraphrase President Kennedy's Civil Rights Address from June, 1963, “We preach freedom around the world, and we mean it, and we cherish our freedom here at home, but are we to say to the world, and much more importantly, to each other that this is the land of the free except for Blacks; that we have no second-class citizens except Blacks; that we have no class or caste system, no ghettos, no master race except with respect to Blacks?” Of course in 1963, President Kennedy said Negroes, but his words still apply today, as do these:

“One hundred years of delay [151 years] have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free. They are not yet freed from the bonds of injustice. They are not yet freed from social and economic oppression. And this Nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free.”

Our country, our compatriots, our children and we deserve better than this. This is not a problem that concerns only our Black sisters and brothers. It is a problem that concerns us all and one that should engage and enrage us all. It is time for us to be as good as the magnificent words to which every American has fallen heir. We must now join together, work together, and stick together until this nation is finally as good and as great as it was meant and ought to be. 

A quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin, says, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” Regardless of who said it, the observation is true. All White Americans of goodwill and authentic patriotism must become outraged by the flagrant and widespread injustice of overzealous policing inflicted on Black Americans [and to a lesser extent, Latino Americans]. It is time for every American to look past the hue to the human. The time for indifference is long since passed because when one American’s rights are violated all Americans’ rights are violated.

As you read these words, consider for a moment, actions each of us can take to help expunge the affliction of racial bigotry from our society. March in solidarity, write to our state and national representatives, speak out at city council and school board meetings, blog or write to editors of periodicals, the options are as diverse as each of us. The only thing we must not do is to sit silently by, and to let the death of Michael Brown become just another statistic in a depressing list of them.

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