True Freedom requires the rule of law and justice, and a judicial system in which the rights of some are not secured by the denial of rights to others – Jonathan Sacks
“Those who kill their own children and discriminate daily against them because of the color of their skin; those who let the murderers of blacks remain free, protecting them, and furthermore punishing the black population because they demand their legitimate rights as free men — how can those who do this consider themselves guardians of freedom” – Che Guevara, 1964, United Nations, New York
No justice, no peace, no racist police – chant by New York City demonstrators who demonstrated against the verdict in Ferguson
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Whatever your take regarding the verdict over Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, there is such a thing as right and wrong.
Without disturbing the ghosts of 9-11, let’s consider a recent event in August, when missing US Journalist James Foley was executed by Isis/ Isil, everyone was outraged. Not only in the US, throughout the world, people got together in solidarity to express anger at the wrongdoing and loathe the evil organisation that carried out the killing. Everyone: black, white, brown, rich, poor, religious, non-religious, old, young, gay and straight and everyone else in between these constructs expressed anger at the brutality. So, even today, there is such a thing as Right and Wrong in which everybody sensible agrees that an atrocity has been committed.
Similarly, there is such a thing as Justice; the administration of the law or authority in maintaining fairness and reasonableness.
The problem arises because Justice in any jurisdiction is only as good as the laws of that jurisdiction allow it to be. And it is often constrained by the fallibility of the machinery that administers it.
In other words, if your laws are inadequate or system of administration of justice is flawed (in that it fails to sufficiently protect some members of a society), the law will continue to fall short again and again causing pain and disappointment to those aggrieved. This cycle will continue until those laws (or the machinery) is rectified.
- Nonsensical Laws continue to leave African-Americans vulnerable to injury or death
An imperfect or odd law may be harmless in a society if it harms no-one, or if its effects pose little or no risk. For example as far as odd laws go: Texas, 1895, where the legislature passed a law making it illegal to ‘unlawfully sow, scatter or place on land’ that belonged to someone else the seed or roots of Johnson grass and Russian thistle (tumbleweed). Ok so, while in 1895 scattering weeds in a another person’s garden in Texas could land you a hefty fine, it is probably fair to say that not many people in Texas today are currently aggrieved by someone sowing tumbleweed in their fields.
But, can it ever be acceptable for the law (or its application) to continually fail to protect people’s lives that are at risk, and who as a result of the failure continue to die in questionable circumstances?
The deaths of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and many others (neatly listed in this brilliant article titled ‘Why Do Black Men Die With Their Hands Up?’ by Katrina Sands here) who have lost their lives in this way couldn’t possibly be justifiable?
It can never be right for a black person to lose their life because they challenged a police officer (or had an argument with another person in the street) any more than it can not be right for a policeman to lose his life because he apprehended or confronted a suspect.
There has to be a balance, and any law that makes it difficult or impossible to achieve that balance is not a good or desirable law. In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “Justice cannot be for one side only, but must be for both.”
Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of the United States and a man who was instrumental in the fight to end the Transatlantic Slave trade, put it like this: “I think the first duty of society is justice.”
Before we talk about anything else, the law must be fair, and reasonable; to all people in society, be they black, white, brown, rich, poor, religious, non-religious, old, young, gay and straight and everyone else in between.
Surely if black people face 20 percent longer jail sentences than whites for the same offenses, the law (or its application) couldn’t possibly be fair or reasonable?
Over the years, the United States has made considerable strides to uphold this most fundamental duty of society.
In respect of Civil Rights, whereas in 1886, the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson held that Jim Crow laws were constitutional as long as they allowed for “separate but equal” facilities, by 1964, the position had been reversed. Discrimination based on race, colour, religion, sex, or national origin had been outlawed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 following years of lobbying, demonstrations and decisions such as Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) in which the Supreme Court declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students to be unconstitutional, thereby overturning Plessy v. Ferguson. It ended unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, at the workplace and by facilities that served the general public. The following year, the Voting Rights Act 1965 was passed prohibiting racial discrimination in voting.
But even before 1963, there had been a lot of progress.Time Magazine of May 11, 1953 had a yellow strip on its front cover, titled ‘THE U.S. NEGRO’ with a tagline ‘A Decade of Progress’.
In the article, the writer lists markers of progress and lingering issues including:
‘The Negro gets justice in the courts, although in some Southern courts he still has to fight for his right (affirmed by the Supreme Court) to be heard by mixed juries…’
The writer observes that:
‘The Negro has suffered more than any other group of Americans. He has seen white man at his worst, and he might have turned cynically against the white man’s faith and values. But he has not. The Negro does feel bitter about his lot. But it is a bitterness greatly modified by hope, patience and humour’
The writer goes on to write that
‘The Negro problem is basically not economic, or social or psychological. It is moral. Prejudice does more moral harm to those who harbour it than to those who are hit by it. And the most hopeful fact about the Negro’s progress in the last decade is that it could not have been possible without some moral progress by white Americans’
So then, 61 years later and after all the work designed to improve moral progress and race relations in the United States by civil rights organisations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) and countless other initiatives by many, you’d think that things must be moving in a positive direction now? Unfortunately, not completely as the evidence shows; for example one inherently biased Federal Law created steeper penalties for crack-cocaine offenses (which happen to be committed by blacks more frequently than whites), than for powder-cocaine offenses. While Congress reduced the disparity in 2010, was that a fair and reasonable law? How many more such biased laws, including Stand Your Ground, which adversely affect minorities disproportionately still remain? [see another link here titled ‘When It Comes To Illegal Drug Use, White America Does The Crime, Black America Gets The Time‘]
- Police Brutality continues to be a major problem faced by minority communities across the US
Watch the videos at this link and tell me what you see. Warning: ITS GRAPHIC (the first one is embedded below)
While some people claim that these are isolated incidents, there are others who claim that such brutality is widespread across the US. Whichever of the two views you are inclined to believe, there is a case to suggest that even if we discount what are described as ‘rare incidents’ police brutality is real.
In a study by Cassandra Chaney and Ray A. Robertson titled ‘Racism and Police Brutality in America’ and published online in January 2013 it was found that:
‘.. the findings from the NPMSRP were compiled between the months of April 2009 and June 2010. In particular, there were 5,986 reports of misconduct, 382 fatalities linked to misconduct, settlements and judgments that totalled $347,455,000, and 33 % of misconduct cases that went through to convictions and 64 % of misconduct cases that received prison sentences. There are several aspects that we found disturbing about this report. First, these findings were compiled and released 18 years after the nationally publicized Rodney King beating. Therefore, one cannot help but wonder about the number of cases of police misconduct that went unreported and did not secure prison sentences. … Interestingly, while the average length of time convicted officers spent in prison was 14 months, the average length of post-conviction incarceration for the general public was 49 months (National Police Misconduct Reporting Project 2011).
They relied on figures from the National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project (NPMSRP) to ascertain if any changes had occurred in the nation’s police departments 21 years after the Rodney King beating. ( See another example titled ‘Enough Is Enough‘ )
- African-Americans are still under-represented in both the Public and Private sectors
In Ferguson alone, while two-thirds of the approximately 21,000 residents are African-American, 94% of the officers sworn to protect them are white. It has a white mayor, a school board with six white members and one Hispanic (it recently suspended a well-regarded young black superintendent who then resigned); a City Council with just one black member; and only 6 % of the police are black. As Jeff Smith, an assistant professor of urban policy at the New School and a former Missouri State Senator from St. Louis puts it in an op-ed on the New York Times:
… Many North County towns — and inner-ring suburbs nationally — resemble Ferguson. Longtime white residents have consolidated power, continuing to dominate the City Councils and school boards despite sweeping demographic change. They have retained control of patronage jobs and municipal contracts awarded to allies.
The North County Labor Club, whose overwhelmingly white constituent unions (plumbers, pipe fitters, electrical workers, sprinkler fitters) have benefited from these arrangements, operates a potent voter-turnout operation that backs white candidates over black upstarts. The more municipal contracts an organization receives, the more generously it can fund re-election campaigns. Construction, waste and other long-term contracts with private firms have traditionally excluded blacks from the ownership side and, usually, the work force as well. …
In other words, there are established social and business ties that make it difficult for minorities to gain a foothold. This kind of picture is replicated across many parts of the United States.
Further, in most cities with fewer than 100,000 residents, 80 % or more of law enforcement officers are white. In Florida, in the Kissimmee Police Department, 4% of sworn officers are black and 31% are Hispanic, despite 59 % of the population of Kissimmee being Hispanic and 12% being black.
In the private sector, the situation is arguably worse. According to the Centre for American Progress, at the corporate boardroom level, only 4.2 % of executives are people of colour. In particular, only 0.8 percent of executives are African-Americans, 1.2 percent for Latinos and 1.8 percent for Asians.
And companies like Google and Facebook are not immune, with each having only 2% of their staff who are black. Clearly, something needs to be done to address the under-representation, especially since Black people make 13 % of the US population.
- Current gun ownership laws have not sufficiently protected Americans
Switzerland has a high rate of gun ownership, but very little gun-related crime, thanks to their somewhat functional gun laws. The gun-related crime in Switzerland is much lower comparatively than the rates in the United States, even when adjusted for population. And it’s not only African-Americans who are being affected by gun-wielding maniacs on the loose. Every year 30,000 people are victims of a shooting; Each day 30 people are murdered by a gunman; people who die prematurely or get injured for absolutely no reason. Who exactly is the US gun-lobby protecting? Americans, or the maniac killers?
While Americans may reserve the right to hold onto their guns, don’t you think the law that regulates the area needs to be properly looked at again?
- The Education of African-Americans is still not yet a priority.
As a result of this African-American struggle to get into well-paid jobs, with only a small percentage earning a decent wage.
Despite some considerable investment in educational initiatives for African-Americans, access to a good education is still largely unattianable to some African-Americans living in deprived areas. More targeted investment is required to enable African-Americans to receive a quality education that can truly empower them to be independent and useful members of their communities. [Black Men Need More Education Than White Men to Get Jobs ]
- Investment in deprived areas across the US continues to lag behind amidst widening economic, social, and judicial disparities between black and white citizens
In the music video to his 2008 single ‘Got Money’, Dwayne Michael Carter (a.k.a. Lil Wayne) casts himself as a modern-day Robin Hood, stealing from a bank, and throwing money to people on the streets from the back of a truck. The music video starts with Carter bemoaning how years after Katrina little had changed. And his solution is to rob what looks like a government institution or bank, and give his plunder to the people on the streets of a somewhat deprived neighbourhood. The video may be mere entertainment, but there is a thinly veiled theme that can be extracted from it: that in some communities deprivation including unemployment can lead to higher crime rates. What goes without saying is that a reduction in neighbourhood poverty leads to a reduction in crime rates irrespective of skin colour of the inhabitants.
7. African-Americans continue to be disproportionately incarcerated in US jails
And the incarceration contributes to poverty and social exclusion. See this article by John Tierny, titled Prison and the Poverty Trap on the New York Times. Even when 12%-13% of the American population is African-American, yet they make up 40% of the almost 2.1 million male inmates in US jails according to figures from U.S. Department of Justice(2009)
- Gerrymandering discriminates against minority voters
Consider these articles here Alabama’s racial gerrymandering goes before Supreme Court by E. Tammy Kim ; Argument preview: Racial gerrymandering, partisan politics, and the future of the Voting Rights Act – Richard Hansen; Anti-gerrymandering rule would be a big step for N.Y by – Richard Briffault, all of which do a good job of explaining this issue.
It can never be right to redraw districts (‘redistricting’), in the process diluting the voting power of communities, all in an attempt to gain political advantage over your opponent. It’s undemocratic and a clear abuse of power.
- Americans are tired of empty promises from politicians who cosy up to tax-evading corporations and bonus-rich bankers over ordinary hard-working citizens
The Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev once said Politicians were the same all over the world. That “they promise to build a bridge even where there is no river”. Sir Ernst Benn, the British publisher, writer and political publicist once said “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy.” Isn’t it strange how so many promises the political classes make don’t get fulfilled?
When you consider political impasse’s such as the US government shutdown of 2013 (See another link here via the Guardian), it seems as though the main priority of the Democrats vs Republicans charade is to outdo or obstruct each other, instead of being to govern and improve the conditions of Americans – the very same people who elected them.
- 10. The Great March on Washington in 1963, where Martin Luther King delivered his ‘I have a dream’ speech was the turning point in Civil Rights issues in the US.
The march is credited with helping to pass the Civil Rights Act (1964) and motivating the Selma to Montgomery marches which led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act (1965).
Thus, after Ferguson, and considering all of the above factors, I believe the time is ripe for a march on Washington.
Congress cannot ignore hundreds of thousands of people converging on Washington to demand rights in the same way that President Johnson and the Congress of 1963 had no choice but to act.
I’m not saying that African-Americans haven’t achieved progress since 1965, not, that’s not what I’m saying. Clearly if you contrast the lives of the people in the slide show below with the lives of Black Americans today, there has been some incredible strides of progress, which would have been unimaginable to King or Garvey.
But, the progress has been punctuated by unrelenting harassment; when African-Americans continue to be killed by police brutality, when a disproportionate number of prisoners in US jails are black, when poverty continues to be rampant in neglected towns inhabited by minorities, when unemployment is still a lot higher among black and Hispanic populations, when black people keep being unfairly blamed for the evils in their communities on news channels like Fox, how significant is that progress?
H. A. Goodman, a columnist and journalist who is also author of Logic of Demons, writing on the Huffington Post Blog, in an article titled ‘The Real Reasons Many White People Can’t Empathize With Ferguson, Racial Disparities, or Black Suffering’ writes:
…So, according to the conservative pundit, African-American teen mothers caused the loss of manufacturing jobs within inner cities, the 27 percent of poverty African-Americans face, the fact that the average black household has a net worth of just over $6,000 compared to over $90,000 for white households, the issue of longer sentences for the same crimes, and a host of other issues unrelated to the sexual habits of teenagers. Of course, you’ll never hear from Fox News, Sean Hannity, or Bill O’Reilly that David T. Ellwood, dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, has explained that “less than 10 percent of welfare recipients live in big-city ghettos, so the bulk of the welfare problem cannot be attributed to the demoralizing effects of these communities.” It’s easier to blame the victim than it is to accept the fact that not everyone has a fair chance at success in America.
So then, can we wholeheartedly claim say that the racism that caused police in the 50’s & 60’s to set police dogs onto peaceful black protesters, and that in 1992 led to the brutal 1992 beating of Rodney King has been overcome, when even pundits so easily place blame on Black Americans as responsible for ills for which they have no control?
How long will it take for all the above grievances to be overcome, and for African–American to truly be equal to their white counterparts? Another 200 years? Surely Booker T. Washington is turning in his grave.
When will African-Americans reject complacency and become “sick and tired of being sick and tired”, in the worlds of Black Freedom Movement leader Fannie Lou Hamer.
With both houses now in the hands of the G.O.P, and when president Obama could find it difficult to pass through important legislation without the broader support from the Republican Party, African-Americans should take note that in the current political environment change is not going to come easy.
Therefore I call upon esteemed African-Americans from Senator Cory Booker, Eric Holder and Kamala Harris to Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Ursula Burns, from Oprah Winfrey and Spike Lee, to Jay-Z and Will Smith; that now is the time to stand up and be counted!
Now is the time for solidarity with the people of Ferguson; with the families of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin; the families of Tamir Rice, Rodney King, Jordan Davis, Oscar Grant,Pearl Pearson, DeShawn Currie, Sean Bell, Kenneth Chamberlain, Ronald Madison, James Brissette, Kelly Thomas, Edgar Vargas Arzate, Eric Garner, Kajieme Powell, John Crawford, Ezell Ford, Dante Parker, Malice Green, Amadou Diallo, Abner Louima, Prince Jones, Henry Glover, Ramarley Graham, Shem Walker and Kendrec McDade.
Now is the time to put an end to police brutality; now is the time to end institutional discrimination of minorities; now is the time to get rid of prejudicial laws that discriminate against black and Hispanic people; now is the time to demand Justice for all; now is the time to demand jobs and fair pay; to demand action on guns, to demand action on unemployment, on healthcare, to demand action on poverty, to demand an end to prejudicial voter-ID laws, now is the time to demand fair immigration laws that protect black and Hispanic families; now is the time for Americans to organise another march to the Lincoln memorial; now is the time for a great march on Washington.
(c) 2014, Grez Suzio . [Copyright : >Text]