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.
I find the leaks coming out of the Ferguson grand jury that has been meeting to determine if charges should be brought against Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown puzzling. Many people seem puzzled as to the source of the leaks. As a news junkie, rather than a lawyer, I consider the source of the leaks less relevant than the content of the leaks. Yes, I know the Ferguson grand jury proceedings are supposed to be conducted with utmost secrecy so as to insure “confidence” in the system (something like the trust insured by a jury of your peers or the transparency of The Sunshine Laws). Nonetheless, I am not puzzled by the fact that there were leaks, nor by the identity of the leaker. Rather, I am puzzled by the information that was leaked.
I am puzzled by The New York Times report that Officer Wilson testified that Michael Brown reached into the patrol car, punched the officer in the face and scratched his neck, while reaching with his right hand for the officer’s weapon. I am puzzled by this. Where was the officer’s weapon when Michael Brown reached into the car? Was the weapon in the officer’s holster on his hip, in the seat next to him, on the dashboard, in the officer’s hand? I find the visuals to be confusing. If the gun was not already in the officer’s hand, why was the officer unable to use his hand to fend off Michael Brown or punch him in the face? If the officer’s hand was empty, why was he unable to subdue the teenager? I am puzzled because it seems that a trained law enforcement officer, Officer Darren Wilson, lost an arm wrestling match with a teenager.
I am puzzled. The first leaked reports about the alleged injuries sustained by Officer Wilson asserted that the police officer suffered major injuries, including a broken or fractured eye socket. According to Snopes.com, reports that Officer Wilson suffered a broken facial bone and fractured eye socket are false. As a matter of fact, according to Snopes.com, images of Jim McNeil, a motocross rider injured in 2006, were circulated through social media to prove that Officer Darren Wilson had been seriously injured by Michael Brown. Since that was all false, I am puzzled as to the true extent of Officer Wilson’s injuries.
I am puzzled because in leaked reports of Officer Wilson’s testimony to the grand jury, Officer Wilson states that he feared for his life. I am puzzled as to when the officer feared for his life. Was he fearful when the teenager turned and ran away? Did Officer Wilson call for backup before exiting the patrol car? Was Officer Wilson’s use of deadly force warranted by the circumstances?
I am puzzled. Did Officer Wilson file an incident report on August 9, 2014, the day he killed Michael Brown? Had Officer Wilson filed a report of the incident by the following week, or the following month? If not, why not?
I am puzzled as to why Missouri Governor Nixon feels the need to appoint a Ferguson Commission to Address Inequality. If the Governor is aware that there are problems of inequality, why did he not address the inequalities in the judicial system by appointing an independent prosecutor to handle the Darren Wilson case, especially in light of prosecuting attorney Robert McCulloch’s conflict of interest?
I am puzzled.
I was depressed after listening to the President’s speech to the UN Security Council. While I understand that people with machetes, who aren’t afraid to use them, are a threat to all. An enlightened society where some can openly carry and shoot to kill unarmed Black men / women seems a more immediate threat to me and mine. So, because the President has been unable to put forth a plan to hold American citizens accountable for violence against other American citizens whom God created as a different race, because the President has been unable to formulate a plan to secure the safety (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) for the ethnic / racial minority in these United States of America; his words were tepid tea.
The President did mention Ferguson, Missouri as proof that he is aware that the United States of America has internal problems. However, he was unable to explain how our “enlightened” nation deals with our internal problems. Rather, it appeared that President Obama mentioned #Ferguson as a way of cutting off criticism “at the pass” from other countries.
Maybe the President’s rhetorical device worked with foreign leaders from around the globe; but, here, on “The Homeland,” it fell short. On the same day the President made an historical speech to the UN Security Council (meeting for only the 6th time at the Head of State level in history); Americans learned that an Ohio grand jury decided not to charge police officers for fatally shooting a Black man for shopping in a Walmart store while carrying a pellet gun he had picked up from the Walmart shelves.
Since the killing of unarmed Trayvon Martin, there appears to be a pattern of shooting unarmed Black men, with impunity, in this country. Perhaps these Black men are standing in for President Obama, for whom racist White Americans carry boundless hatred. Whatever the reason, the shooters of unarmed Black men, are generally cleared and deemed to have re-acted appropriately to a perceived threat of violence. The United States has long had a history of arresting Black men for DWB (driving while Black). Now, Black men can be legally shot dead for WalkingWhileBlack, #TrayvonMartin and #MichaelBrown, ShoppingWhileBlack, #JohnCrawford; or WorkingWhileBlack #EricGarner, choked on the street in New York for peddling cigarettes (possibly working at the only job available to him).
So, while I am sickened to see video of two American journalists beheaded by terrorists on the other side of the world, and equally sickened at descriptions of women and girls being abducted, raped, murdered or forced into marriage; I was depressed by the President’s speech to the UN Security Council. I was depressed because it appeared that the President only invoked #Ferguson Missouri as a preemptive strike against those who would dare criticize these United States, or “The Homeland,” as he now calls it.
When President Obama ran for office, he assured us that he could pat his head and rub his stomach at the same time. I need President Obama to recognize the threat faced by American citizens on “The Homeland” and come up with a plan to neutralize the threat. And, I need him to know that a mentoring program to show our young men how to pull themselves up by their boot straps will not neutralize or solve the problems faced by minorities in this country as racial minorities are not being killed by their boot straps.
I need President Obama to turn a portion of his considerable intelligence to protecting the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of Black men and women in this country. I need the President to convene great leaders/thinkers in this country, just as he convened the Heads of State of the UN Security Council, to mobilize and activate plans to neutralize the internal threats to American citizens. Perhaps, then the United States will be able to speak to others from a position of moral authority.
A Mother’s arms are empty. A Father’s head is bowed. A child’s blood cries out from the ground. A police officer, sworn to protect and defend the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri, rises every morning to look at “the man in the mirror” who shot an unarmed teenager. And the big question of the day seems to be: “Why would people destroy their own community”?
Political pundits, news anchors, public officials, ministers, friends and acquaintances have all weighed in on this question. The answers have been wide-ranging, including:
- This is typical thug behavior
- These are the actions of a few ignorant people who make everyone look bad
- The looters are outside agitators
- People are reacting to a militarized police force
- The people need to be given a public square to speak and express their anger
- The people of Ferguson need jobs
- Blacks in Ferguson are under-represented on the police force
- These actions are reminiscent of the “Destruction of Tea in Boston”
- People are reacting to their perceived circumstances
In my opinion, none of the above responses, sufficiently, answers the question of why people would destroy their own community. It appears that the people of Ferguson were functioning on automatic pilot in response to danger. They were in “flight or fight” mode. The community had watched a young man try to run from a dangerous situation, only to be gunned down. After the killing of #MichaelBrown, the community was surrounded by a hostile police force. There appeared to be no escape. There appeared to be no safety. They appeared to have no rights. They seemed powerless and without speech.
Tellingly, if news reports are accurate, the Missouri National Guard was dispatched to protect the Police Command Center, and some police officers were dispatched to protect certain neighborhoods in Ferguson. It appeared that there was no protection of the First Amendment rights of the people in Ferguson. Instead, the people were given an unjust order to “keep moving.”
So, it seems to me, that rather than the query about why a few, distressed, fearful protestors threw rocks; there are better questions to ask. Why was an unarmed teen killed by a trained police officer who, in addition to a gun, carried a club and mace? Why did the police officers and Missouri National Guard deny American citizens their First Amendment right of peaceful assembly? How can the family get justice for #MichaelBrown? Most importantly, how can we make sure it never happens again?
It is time, as the Prophet Amos and the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. said, to Let Justice Roll Down (Click).