Samuel L. Jackson sings (click here) “We Ain’t Gonna Stop, Till People Are Free.”
Prior to yesterday’s game between the Saint Louis Rams and the Oakland Raiders, several Rams offensive players entered the stadium with their hands up, mimicking the stance that some witnesses claim #MichaelBrown adopted prior to being fatally shot by Officer Darren Wilson.
This morning, Joe Scarborough of “Morning Joe” was on a rant. He questioned how the Saint Louis Rams ( by implication, anyone) would choose to make a hero out of #Michael Brown who was clearly a “thug.” It seems to me that #MichaelBrown would have needed to be arrested, charged with a crime and convicted before one could say, with any authority, that #MichaelBrown was a “thug.” Officer Wilson denied #MichaelBrown the right of a fair trial, so the world will never know if #MichaelBrown would have been found guilty of robbing a store and assaulting a police officer. #MichaelBrown’s side of the story has been forever silenced. One cannot say that the Rams football players did or did not come onto the field with #Handsup because they saw #MichaelBrown as a hero. Perhaps, they simply saw a black teenager denied due process under the law. Although I am not a lawyer, it is my understanding that even hardened criminals, in this country, should be accorded certain rights and protections.
Joe Scarborough ended his rant by saying that while most people will not say it publicly, 95% of people agree with him. I’m tempted to use my mother’s words — “if 95% of the people jumped off a bridge would you join them”? –but I won’t. Instead, I will say that things often look different from a distance.
In 1967 Muhammad Ali opposed the Vietnam War and refused to be inducted into the United States Army on religious grounds. Muhammad Ali claimed a religious exemption because he is a Muslim. Ali was initially convicted of draft evasion, sentenced to prison, fined and banned from boxing. I would venture to say that 98% of Americans (including many in the largely Christian African-American population) agreed with the government’s harsh treatment of Ali. After all, he was not a Christian. He was not even a Quaker. So, who was he to refuse to serve in the military? However, after reviewing the cascade of body bags, the dark days of anti-war protests (especially, the Kent State Massacre), and, finally, the Pentagon Papers; public opinions changed, as did government policy. I think Joe Scarborough would be hard-pressed to find anyone, looking back, who does not respect Ali for acting according to his conscience.
At the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico, two Black American Olympic medalists, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, stood on a podium, bowed their heads and raised their fists in the air, giving the Black Power salute during the playing of the National Anthen. This gesture of solidarity with Black Americans who were fighting for equality back home in the United States cost these athletes dearly. Millions of white Americans were offended by this act. These two athletes could have followed the example of the great Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany and greatly offended, I’m sure, Adolph Hitler by doing so. Jesse Owens made no outward sign or gesture to show how he felt about racism or the fact that Blacks and Jews were treated differently (i.e., Hitler sought to exclude them from the games). Jesse Owens’ only response to Hitler’s claim of Aryan supremacy was to debunk the theory of Aryan superiority on the track. Reportedly, Jesse Owens did not receive the same congratulations from President Roosevelt as was accorded other American athletes returning home from the Olympics. Still, there is no record of Owens acting to draw attention to the his reality.
It seems to me that the times dictate ones response to perceived racism. Tommie Smith and John Carlos chose to bow their heads in acknowledgement of the Star Spangled Banner, while raising their fists in the popular Black Power Salute. They knew Jesse Owens. They must have known the racism he encountered. They certainly must have experienced racism in their own lives and understood the struggles of Black Americans who were not standing there with them on the podium. As a young college student in 1968, I appreciated the internal struggles that Smith and Carlos must have experienced — wanting to support the struggle for racial equality at home while pursuing their quest for the gold. They did not burn any buildings or commit any crimes, but they gave us a sign that we recognized. Their fists let us know that they cared.
It seems to me that the Saint Louis Rams players are standing on broad shoulders. Joe Scarborough and 95% of his viewers may be offended. This is not the first time that a lot of people were offended. It will not be the last. The majority can be wrong. One’s conscience cannot be dictated by majority vote. An act of conscience must be the result of one’s moral compass. Others may not understand until they look back from a distance.
Like any good manager, trained to manage human resources for the good of the company, Bob McCulloch, the St. Louis County prosecutor in the case of Missouri vs. Darren Wilson, stepped forward at close of business on November 24, 2014 to issue pink slips to people who, despite all the negative forecasts, had gathered on that cold November night hoping that the work of meting out justice to Darren Wilson for taking the life of an unarmed young man in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, 2014 would begin in earnest. I was taken aback by McCulloch’s well rehearsed speech which set forth the premise that Darren Wilson acted properly, as an agent of the State, when he executed #MichaelBrown, thus denying Brown due process under the law. McCulloch announced that Darren Wilson would not stand trial by a jury of his peers. Instead, the people were given pink slips at the end of the day.
Bob McCulloch did the job he was created to do. As a show of support for McCulloch’s good work, Governor Nixon met with faith leaders and community leaders and declared a state of emergency well ahead of McCulloch’s presentation. There were pleas from different factions of the company, urging the people to peacefully resign themselves to the way things are and to disperse quietly with their pink slips. The Chairman of the Board, who is generally focused on the big picture and moving the company forward, stepped up after McCulloch issued the pink slips to remind us that ours is a Nation of laws. And I was taken back in time.
I was taken back in time to the murders of Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, John Crawford and Tamir Rice. I was taken back to August 9, 2014 when #MichaelBrown lay dead in the street for over four hours after being denied equal protection under the law by Darren Wilson. I was taken back in time to August when peaceful protestors were met with tear gas and armoured tanks in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri.
I was taken back to a time in our great country when the law of the land was “separate but equal.” I was taken back to a time when a 14 year old black boy was murdered because a white woman claimed he looked at her. I was taken back to a time when a black woman was arrested for sitting in the wrong seat on a public bus. I was taken back to a time when young black college students were arrested for sitting down to eat at a Woolworth’s lunch counter. I was taken back to a time when James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were murdered for registering black voters. I was taken back to a time when police with dogs and hoses were let loose on people who marched in protest of unjust laws.
I was taken back to Dr. King, sitting in a Birmingham jail, writing a letter to white clergymen asserting that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” I was taken back to the murders of Medgar Evers, John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.and Robert Kennedy — a time that left us floundering, wondering if we would ever reach the mountaintop that Dr. king talked about. I was taken back to a time when cities burned. And people prayed. And people cursed. And people marched. And people sang. And people cried. And people went to jail. And people died. And people despaired. Then, people picked themselves up, went to the polls and voted.