Today, we are in a struggle against the common enemies of a pandemic and racial injustice. It has been said that injustice never rules forever. We now have a President who in his mind, sees himself as honorable, yet his conscience prevents him from understanding the concept of justice. Without this understanding, we are slowly watching the disintegration of our nation. It is possible to decide that the burden of hate, racism, and division are burdens too big to carry, unless you intend for that decision to be your sole objective from the start. The demonstration of love, empathy, inclusion, and an un-abiding desire for equality are not signs of losing, they are signs of leadership, decency, and humanity. These qualities require enterprise and bravery, the ability to know the difference between good and bad, and the willingness and spirit to forge ahead for the greater good.
Injustice and racial inequality are character traits that no American should ever want to see, especially in our own homeland. We can no longer be indifferent to evil. Those who may be frustrated and may no longer want to become engaged, are tired of the insanity and uncertainty, and who have given up all hope for a better America and a more perfect union, cannot retreat to a safe house as there is no such place in any of our communities. In today’s environment, no one can afford to sit on the sidelines, watching as the future of our country crumbles around them.
Although we are in the midst of a pandemic, a public health crisis of its own, we remain entrenched in another pandemic of systemic racism and injustice, a public health pandemic that has been with us for multiple generations. From the atrocities bestowed upon the Indigenous people of this country from day one to the enslavement of African Americans for generations since, we have failed as people to live up to the ideals that we first set out in our Constitution.
As a child of the 60’s, I have witnessed so many inequities in our nation, inequities that no child fully comprehends, or should ever have to witness. This was a time during which my parents were highly and rightly concerned. We were a family of 5 sons and one daughter. I did not fully understand at the time why it was that whenever any of us left the house, we always had to go in pairs. We were limited in where we could go. Our parents mapped out our route, even though we knew exactly where our aunt and cousins lived. At a certain point before we reached our destination, we would have to stop at Mrs. Jones’ house and call our parents to let them know we had made it that far. Once we got to our aunt’s home, we had to call home again to let our parents know that we had reached our destination. We were not allowed to go anywhere after dark. As we got older, it became clear as to why our parents reacted as they did.
My neighborhood was one of the most poverty-stricken in Houston, Texas, not unlike so many of our neighborhoods today. The violence was just a part of growing up. Many of my childhood friends never made it out of that area. Many died due to gang violence. Others died from police shootings. Others ended up in jail, often for reasons that we or their parents never completely understood, while others simply went missing, never to be seen or heard from again. Lynching’s were common events during those times and police investigations into the disappearance of a young Black male was not a priority. This is why our parents set such strict and clear rules.
As I got older, I recalled the simple things like going to the grocery store or to buy new sneakers or going downtown to buy a gift for my parents on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. I had to take a bus to get there and was always reminded by the bus driver that I needed to sit in the back of the bus. Once I reached my destination, there was never a time when a store employee would not “slow walk” and follow me up and down each aisle. If I saw an item in a window case that I liked, the response was always “you can’t afford that”. If I were thirsty, I would be instructed that I could only drink from the water fountain that was marked with a sign that read “For Coloreds Only”. Later, after these continued experiences, I discussed my insecurities with my father, a quiet but very reasoned man, who served this country in both the U. S. Army and the U.S. Navy. My father explained to me the history that had led up to my current circumstances and experiences. He had only gone to the 9th grade of formal education. He impressed upon me that if I wanted to do anything about these situations, it was incumbent upon me to become as educated as possible. This talk with my Dad was exactly the direction and insight that I needed at that time.
During the summer between my junior and senior years in high school, I was selected to attend a summer session for gifted black students at Texas Southern University. That was the first time that I had spent any length of time away from my family. We were housed in a dormitory and that experience became one of the most formative of my life. Because of the common experiences we all were having as students, we ultimately participated in peaceful protest marches, realizing for the first time that our voices mattered, that our lives mattered. I rode the bus from time to time to get around the city, but each time, I refused to sit in the back of the bus. Instead, I sat directly behind the bus driver. Yes, I received stares and under the breath comments, but these stares and comments were no longer intimidating. If I went to do any shopping, and saw that I was being followed, I spoke up and asked that person if I could help them since they seemed to have taken such a personal interest in my every move. Speaking up was empowering, and more often than not, that person would cease their surveillance.
Yet today, we have returned to those days of yore. The Covid 19 pandemic is real and must be taken seriously. Systemic and ongoing racism is just as real and must be taken equally seriously. Racism, hate, injustice, inequality….no child is born with any of these traits. These are all learned behaviors.
For generations, our nation has failed, time and again to take action to end the root causes of racism, intolerance, inequality, hate, and injustice aimed directly at people of color. The current occupant of the Whitehouse has made it his sole purpose to promote, incite, and exacerbate the current pandemic of injustice. It is incomprehensible to me as to why no one in his party is willing to standup to this self-imposed dictator. They all speak of freedom, liberty, the rule of law, and equal justice, but not one of them has shown any desire or willingness to act. From cities to small towns across the nation, we are witnessing the uprising of the people to say, “enough is enough”. Those protesting include people of all stripes, not just Black people, but Whites, Hispanics, Indigenous Americans, Asian Americans, those of different creeds, and many other ethnicities. These same people were instrumental in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s. When such a diverse group of allies are reading from the same script, and they are, it is evident that, as a nation, we have a profoundly serious and ongoing problem that demands immediate attention and action.
In 1955, a 14-year-old Black male was tortured and lynched in Mississippi. Yet, and after all these years, we still cannot get the Emmett Till Anti-lynching Bill passed through Congress. This bill passed the House by a vote of 410 to 4. It was blocked in the Senate by none other than Senator Rand Paul, one of the most prominent embarrassments to ever hold a position as a United States Senator.
The trend of racism and fatal police shootings in our country has been on a steady and upwards rise since 2017. And these are the shootings that we officially know about. As of June 4, 2020, 429 civilians have been shot by Police Officers, 88 of whom were Black Americans and we still have 6 months to go in this year. There were 996 fatal police shootings in 2018, a number that increased to 1,004 in 2019. The rate of fatal police shootings among Black Americans is much higher than that for any other ethnicity, standing at 30 fatal shootings per million of the population as of this June.
Yet still, after each shooting, we hear the same responses from our cities, states, and the federal government. We have had more Task Forces, promises of more officer training, promises of more independent police oversight, and promises of weeding out the bad apples. The problem can no longer be said to be the result of a few “bad apples”. We are now being oppressed and abused by infected orchards, orchards comprised of arrogant, racist, and intolerant public servants, protected now by a “thick blue line” and enabling politicians. And I do not say this lightly as I have a brother who is a retired Police Officer who never discharged his service weapon during his entire career. We all know what the problems are, we know where they are, and we know what the multiple Task Force reports have shown. We know that we have an escalating public health crisis of increasing hate, intolerance, and systematic racism.
I in no way condone looting or rioting. Violence only begets violence. Those who commit these acts must be held accountable for their actions. Police Officers who have sworn to protect and serve, must likewise be held accountable for their actions. Enough is enough. This is the essence of what protestors are saying when they see the continued police abuse and the deliberate and inhumane murder of George Floyd with their own eyes.
So I leave you with these final words, words that I will never forget, delivered by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 3, 1968 on the eve of his assassination:
“All we say to America is, “Be true to what you said on paper.” If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they haven’t committed themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of the press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right. And so just as I say, we aren’t going to let any injunction turn us around, we aren’t going to let any dogs turn us around.”
“Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation.”
When you have robbed a man of everything, he no longer fears you. As a nation, we can no longer kick the can down the road. We can no longer wait for judgement day, for that day is here and now.