I have had it with cops who think they are above the law. Who let the fact they wear a badge and carry a gun, go to their heads. I have had it with this shoot first and ask questions later mentality. I’ve had it with America’s obsession with violence and guns. Most of all I have had it with the racism in law enforcement, our justice system, and in societal attitudes. No where is that racism more apparent than when speaking of young men of color. This attitude that young men of color are often criminals, thugs, gangsters, without character or conscience has to stop!
There are people who will literally lock their car doors when sitting in them when a young man of color walks by, who will cross the street to the other side when they see a young man of color walk by, who distrust and fear young men of color who are their neighbors still in the 21st century. Centuries old racial stereotypes and prejudices still persist in far too many white’s subconscious.
Those old Jim Crow and post slavery attitudes and conflicts have never fully went away, they still exist below the surface. Occasionally this mass societal repression of these attitudes and conflicts, come strongly into the conscience and in the forefront of people’s minds. It is then when we see those attitudes and conflicts are still very much there in the minds of many. Events like the murder of Michael Brown and the protest and riots that followed in Ferguson and elsewhere show without a doubt we still suffer from the scars of centuries of slavery, segregation, distrust, fear, and anger within our collective conscience as a society.
You don’t get over centuries of oppression, persecution, and injustice in a few years time or even in a decade. It may take several decades, several generations even, or perhaps a century or more to fully heal such deep wounds in the collective psyche. Those wounds are obviously most acutely and strongly felt within the African-American community but all communities of color have had to overcome oppression, persecution, and injustice for generations. Even impoverished whites have had to overcome hardships and such to a lesser degree that have also left unseen but very real wounds in the collective consciousness. These are all the type of wounds or trauma that carry across the generations. To deny this very real phenomenon is not to understand human emotion, human consciousness, and human nature. It is also to minimize the harm largely societal imposed oppression, persecution, injustice, and hardship have done to various populations.
The hurt, anger, protest, collective actions of various sorts, and at times riots are not well understood by those who are among the favored classes, the wealthy, and powerful but to those within the African-American community, other communities of color, and minority communities and downtrodden people of all stripes it is often very much understood. It is no coincidence these same communities and individuals have a higher likelihood of being treated unjustly by police and our justice system. It is no happenstance that these communities and individuals can better identify with such pain in others, with the outrage, with the sadness, with the feelings of powerlessness, and with the feelings of feeling hopeless at time. Some who are not among these communities and individuals also have an ability to understand and strongly empathize with but many if not most can not. The left tends to better empathize than the right over such issues but it is socially based far more than politically based.
It’s hard to convince wealthy white men who are in potions of power and influence what that hurt, anger, protest, collective action, and riots are all about. It is completely foreign to them as they for the most part have never understood being poor, disenfranchised, mistreated by law enforcement, the justice system, and society at large. Some may attempt to point to how wealthy and powerful people are often criticized and sometimes vilified because of their wealth and power but that is a different phenomenon completely then what those in the streets and on social networks are expressing. Those communities and individuals don’t have the shield of their wealth and power to protect themselves from such. They suffer far more than just hurt feelings. They don’t have the money and resources to defend themselves against injustice, to lobby, or to allow them to live easy and comfortable lives. All they have is their voice and when they feel they don’t have that even, some resort to violence and unlawful acts in a desperate attempt to be heard.
Some are convinced 18-year-old Michael Brown was nothing but a thug who hated whitey and cops, who was violent, and was intent on killing Darren Wilson. No matter how much the facts and people who knew him prove otherwise they will be convinced of this no matter what. The hateful stereotypes and exaggerated caricatures of troubled young black men is the only thing going through their mind. They will not allow themselves to be bothered by facts, evidence that proves otherwise, or first hand testimony of those who knew him best. These people are not worth spending the time convincing, as the pop culture saying says so well; “haters gonna hate”.
There are those many on the fence over the incident and response surrounding it, those who are not paying attention, and those in positions of power and influence who are worth trying to gain activist attention. Never before have more people heard that message surrounding police brutality, the plight of people of color living in a sometimes hostile society face, and police immunity to crimes as they have today; so there is reason to be hopeful.
Tragically however the heartbreak continues with the murder of Tamir Rice and other young men of color shot and killed since Michael Brown was murdered. Tamir was just a 12-year-old kid playing with a toy gun in a park when he was executed by police. It happened in a matter of a few seconds, before Tamir likely even realized what was going on. Would this have happened if Tamir was a white kid? I think not. The officer on the dispatch call said he thought Tamir was about 20 years old when he shot him. To the cops mind then he was likely just a young armed black thug to their way of thinking then a boy with a toy gun which was the case in reality. Those stereotypes and fears were likely a driving force behind their actions. Those stereotypes and fears killed Tamir, they killed Mike Brown, and countless other young men of color in this Nation.
Young men of color are at significantly higher risk of being murdered than their white peers, this is a statistical fact. They are much more likely to be questioned by police. They are also far more likely to end up behind bars and serve longer sentences than their white counterparts convicted of similar crimes. They are even significantly more likely to be charged and convicted for crimes compared to whites in the criminal justice system. It’s not news either that they are far more likely to end up being killed by police than whites pursued by police. In the 21st century these stats are beyond shameful and simply unacceptable in a free and fair democratic Country.
It should not take the pain of grief of an African-American woman burying her son before the Nation wakes up. It should not take the heartbreak of a black father losing his son for the Nation to pay attention. It should not take a boy playing with a toy gun in the park being shot and killed by police to get the Nation to care. This has been happening for decades and the fact it continues in the 21st century should be shameful to all of us. For too long we have ignored it, minimized it, failed to pay much attention to it but things have reached a tipping point. Michael Brown’s parents and others speaking out, social media, bloggers, the media, and the Obama administration brought these issue to the forefront of the Nation’s consciousness. They forced us to pay attention to these issues we typically don’t think about. They caused us to be better aware how deep and far-reaching these injustices go. I know they all have made an impression on me and convinced me I had to get involved.
I see these issues as evidence of all the places we have yet to make progress yet in civil rights and where we have far to go. Growing up what I was taught in school surrounding civil rights was very little of the full story. It pretty much stopped and ended with Lincoln and the emancipation proclamation, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, Rosa Parks, MLK and “I have a dream”, and the freedom riders. I only heard a passing mention of Malcolm X and Caesar Chavez. The Stonewall Riots were not even mentioned along with many other people and stories the education system wanted to withhold from us. They only wanted to teach us their whitewashed and non-controversial historical revisionism of history.
It was on my own where I had to educate myself on civil rights issues. It is the same thing I would tell all young people to do; educate themselves don’t rely on only what they are taught in school. It is through education, activism, and public outreach where we all can have the most impact. The same could be said of all rights issues. It is through education, activism, and public outreach where we have the most ability to change things. Every person we convince to begin to pay attention, get them interested in learning more, and get involved is one more voice calling for change. Those extra voices will make it less likely tragedies will happen and more likely those being the cause for those tragedies will be held to account. If you want change you have to do something to help advance and advocate for that change or otherwise it will never happen. If you want justice you have to use just means to obtain that justice. If you want hope you have to hold onto hope.
There is no easy or fast way to bring about change. Change is hard, change takes a long time, change does not come without risk, change requires sacrifice, and change does not happen without people working together towards that change. If change was easy, quick, without risk, required no sacrifice, and did not require collective cooperation it would have already happened. Change will not be easy or happen quickly but it will in the end be worth it.
Alan Curtis Montgomery
“Progress is a nice word. But change is its motivator. And change has its enemies.”
- Robert Kennedy (Shot by an assassin June 5th 1968 while advocating for change. He died the next morning as the result of his injuries.)