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“Cop Killers Serve No Cause”: It’s Getting To The Point Where No Lives Matter

How can anyone ever explain this to Mason?

He’s only 4 months old, so that moment still lies years in the future. Still, at some point, too soon, he will ask the inevitable questions, and someone will have to tell him how his dad was shot to death for being a police officer in Baton Rouge.

Montrell Jackson was not the only cop killed Sunday, nor the only one who left a child behind. Officer Matthew Gerald and Sheriff’s Deputy Brad Garafolo also had kids. And it’s likely that in killing five police officers earlier this month, a sniper in Dallas robbed multiple children of their fathers, too.

So there are a lot of people having painful discussions with a lot of kids just now. But Mason’s father was the only one of these eight dead cops with the maddening and paradoxical distinction of being an African-American man killed in protest of police violence against African-American people. He left a Facebook post that gave a glimpse into how frustrating it was, living on both sides of that line — being both black and a cop and therefore, doubly distrusted.

“I swear to God,” he wrote, “I love this city but I wonder if this city loves me. In uniform I get nasty hateful looks and out of uniform some consider me a threat.”

“Please,” he pleaded, “don’t let hate infect your heart.”

Nine days later, he was dead.

Counting two New York City policemen murdered in 2014, this makes at least 10 cops randomly killed in the last two years by people ostensibly fighting police brutality. But those madmen could hardly be bigger traitors to that cause.

One is reminded of something Martin Luther King said the night before his assassination, when he explained “the problem with a little violence.” Namely, it changes the discussion, makes itself the focus. King had been protesting on behalf of striking sanitation workers in Memphis when unruly young people turned his march into a riot. “Now … we’ve got to march again,” he said, “in order to put the issue where it is supposed to be.”

These cop killers leave us a similar dilemma. Instead of discussing the violence of police, we are now required to discuss violence against police and to say the obvious: These killers serve no cause, nor does any cause justify what they did. They are just punk cowards with guns who have changed the subject, thereby giving aid and comfort to those who’d rather not confront the issue in the first place.

But if we don’t, then what? One often hears men like Rudy Giuliani and Bill O’Reilly express contempt for the Black Lives Matter movement of protest and civil disobedience; one is less likely to hear either of them specify what other means of protest they would suggest for people whose concerns about racially biased and extralegal policing have been otherwise ignored for decades by government and media. If not Black Lives Matter, then what? Patient silence? Acceptance of the status quo?

That isn’t going to happen, and the sooner the nation understands this, the sooner it moves forward. Sadly, that move, whenever it comes, will be too late for Mason and dozens of others left newly fatherless, sonless, brotherless, husbandless and bereft. Still, we have to move. The alternative is to remain stuck in this place of incoherence, fear, racial resentment … and rage. Always rage.

But rage doesn’t think, rage doesn’t love, rage doesn’t build, rage doesn’t care. Rage only rends and destroys.

We have to be better than that. We have no choice but to be better than that. We owe it to Mason to be better than that. He deserves a country better than this mad one in which his father died, and life is poured out like water.

Jocelyn Jackson, Montrell’s sister, put it best in an interview with the Washington Post. “It’s getting to the point where no lives matter,” she said.


By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist, The Miami Herald; The National Memo, July 21, 2016

July 24, 2016 Posted by | Gun Deaths, Law Enforcement, Police Brutality, Police Shootings | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Voteless People Is A Hopeless People”: Memories Of Selma And ‘Bloody Sunday’; ‘They Came With Nightsticks’

They became iconic images of the civil rights movement: A middle-aged black woman tear-gassed and beaten and slumped unconscious on the side of the road. A white Alabama state trooper, billy club in hand, stands above her. In another photo, a young man cradles her body in his arms.

Amelia Boynton Robinson, the woman in those photos, had helped galvanize hundreds of activists to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965 — part of a march from Selma to Montgomery to demand their civil rights. Helmeted law enforcement officers pummeled the peaceful demonstrators on what became known as “Bloody Sunday.”

“They came with horses,” Boynton Robinson recalled. “They came with nightsticks.”

She is now a centenarian — conflicting sources put her age at 104 to 109 — and devotees lovingly refer to her as “Queen Mother.”

“I was taught to love people, to excuse their hate and realize that if they get the hate out of them, that they will be able to love,” Boynton Robinson said during a recent trip to Los Angeles. “After Bloody Sunday people began to wake up.… and those who have arisen because of our Bloody Sunday have excelled.”

The matriarch of the civil rights movement is physically frail and uses a wheelchair, but she remains perceptive and alert, and her failing health has not dampened her determination to keep pushing for change.

“I was born to lead,” said Boynton Robinson, whose role in the voting rights movement is featured in the film “Selma.” “My parents didn’t look at people as being colored or white.” They treated everyone as equal, she added.

Boynton’s activism began when she was a girl growing up in Savannah, Ga. As young as 9 years old she accompanied her mother in a horse and buggy, distributing leaflets for the Women’s Suffrage Movement. (Women finally got the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920.)

At age 14 she attended Georgia State Industrial College for Colored Youth, now Savannah State University. Two years later she started studying under the tutelage of famed African American botanist and inventor George Washington Carver.

Her career would lead to her to becoming a home demonstration agent for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The job included helping rural women with food preservation and teaching home economics.

“My parents made an example of what they wanted their children to be,” Boynton Robinson said. “My parents never looked down at anybody,” and they believed every individual should be treated and respected as royalty, she said.

Boynton Robinson became a registered voter in 1932, but many blacks, particularly in the South, remained disenfranchised due to obstacles, such as poll taxes and literacy tests, enforced by state and local authorities. The Selma establishment was known to be among the most egregious in barring blacks from the polls.

Along with her husband, Sam, she pushed for black rights, and their house on Lapsley Street in Selma became a meeting place for organizers in the movement. Planning sessions for the march on the Edmund Pettus Bridge were held in that house.

The Selma march was organized to protest the fatal shooting a few days earlier of a young African American church deacon named Jimmie Lee Jackson by an Alabama state trooper, and the general issue of black disenfranchisement across much of the South.

During a meeting in Malibu with middle school journalism students, the veteran activist vividly recalled how law enforcement officials, armed with tear gas, were determined not to let the activists march to Montgomery. She recounted how when demonstrators refused to disperse, the attack began.

“People were running because they were beating you,” Boynton Robinson said. “I mean they were beating everything. I just stood still.”

An officer ordered her to run. She asked, “Why, what for?” That’s when he struck her on the shoulder, then at the base of her neck, knocking her unconscious.

Troopers dragged her to the side of the road, leaving her for dead.

As Boynton Robinson later learned, when Selma’s Sheriff Jim Clark was told of her presumed demise he was less than sympathetic.

“He said, ‘If she’s dead, let her alone and let the buzzards eat her,’” Boynton Robinson said.

Fellow activists came to her aid and an ambulance eventually took her to a hospital.

The images of the atrocities that day triggered shock and outrage across the globe.

When Boynton Robinson became aware of the magnitude of the malfeasance that occurred on Bloody Sunday, it intensified her will “to do better and go farther and … to help the people to become registered and voters,” said the activist, who in 1964 was the first black woman in Alabama to seek a seat in Congress.

According to published material, in the weeks after the march a group of U.S. congressmen met with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders at Boynton Robinson’s home to produce the first draft of the Voting Rights Act. Boynton Robinson was at the White House when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the act into law in August 1965.

Although census data shows that turnout among voting-age African Americans in presidential elections has vastly improved in recent years — in part due to President Obama and his campaign’s community mobilization drive — Boynton Robinson believes there is still a sense of apathy among the black electorate.

“They have gone back to sleep,” she said. She appealed to today’s generation to embrace the lessons of the struggle and not take suffrage for granted.

“I am still determined that these young people will realize that a voteless people is a hopeless people,” she told the students, and later added: “If they keep doing what Dr. King and the others were doing, we will not regret…. because we have paved the way for them to follow.”


By: Ann M. Simmons, The Los Angeles Times, March 6, 2015


March 7, 2015 Posted by | Civil Rights Movement, Selma, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Pope Vs. Rush”: Pope Francis Threw A Rock Into A Bunch Of Dogs And The One It Hit Is Now Hollering

I like capitalism.

Specifically, I like the idea that if I write a better book, have a better idea, build a better mousetrap, I will be rewarded accordingly. A system where everyone gets the same reward regardless of quality or quantity of work is inconsistent with excellence and innovation, as the mediocrity and inefficiency that beset the Soviet Union readily proves.

The woman who is successful under capitalism gets to eat steak and lobster whenever she wants. That’s never bothered me. What does bother me is the notion that the unsuccessful man who lacks that woman’s talent, resources, opportunities or luck should not get to eat at all. There is something obscene in the notion that a person can work full-time for a multinational corporation and not earn enough to keep a roof over his head or food on his table. The so-called safety net by which we supposedly protect the poor ought to be a solid floor, a level of basic sustenance through which we, as moral people, allow no one to fall — particularly if their penury is through no fault of their own.

Maybe you regard that opinion as radical and extremist. Maybe it is. But if so, I am in excellent company.

Martin Luther King, for instance, mused that “there must be a better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.”

The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 8:13-15, that it’s wrong for some to live lives of ease while others struggle. “The goal is equality, as it is written: ‘The one who gathered much did not have too much and the one who gathered little did not have too little.’” In Acts 4:32, Luke writes approvingly of the early church that: “No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.”

Which brings us to the Pope — and Rush Limbaugh. As you may have heard, the former has issued his first Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, in which, among other things, he attacks the free market and what he calls an “economics of exclusion.” This had the latter up in arms last week on his radio show.

Pope Francis writes that poverty must be “radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality…”

“This is astounding … and it’s sad,” says Limbaugh. “It’s actually unbelievable.”

“How can it be that it is not a news item,” writes the Pope, “when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

“This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the Pope,” fumes Limbaugh.

Trickle-down economics, writes the pontiff, “expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power…”

Maybe, says Limbaugh, his words were deliberately mistranslated by “the left.” No, seriously, he said that.

But then, some of us are fine with faith so long as it speaks in platitudinous generalities or offers a weapon to clobber gay people with, but scream bloody murder when it imposes specific demands on our personal conscience — or wallet.

It is perfect that all this unfolds in the season of thanksgiving, faith and joy, as people punch, stun-gun and shoot one another over HDTVs and iPads and protesters demand what ought to be the bare minimum of any full-time job: wages sufficient to live on.

This is thanksgiving, faith and joy? No. It is fresh, albeit redundant evidence of our greed — and of how wholeheartedly we have bought into the lie that fulfillment is found in the things we own.

Some of us disagree. Some us feel that until the hungry one is fed and the naked one clothed, the best of us is unfulfilled, no matter how many HDTVs and iPads he owns. This is the radical, extremist ideal embraced by the human rights icon, the Gospel writers, the Bishop of Rome — and me.


By: Leonard Pitts, J., Featured Post, The National Memo, November 4, 2013

December 9, 2013 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Pope Francis | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Getting Past The Outrage On Race”: Unless We Work For Fundamental Justice, Our Society Will Have A Permanent Underclass

George Yancy’s recent passionate response in The Stone to Trayvon Martin’s killing — and the equally passionate comments on his response — vividly present the seemingly intractable conflict such cases always evoke. There seems to be a sense in which each side is right, but no way to find common ground on which to move discussion forward. This is because, quite apart from the facts of the case, Trayvon Martin immediately became a symbol for two apparently opposing moral judgments. I will suggest, however, that both these judgments derive from the same underlying injustice — one at the heart of the historic March on Washington 50 years ago and highlighted in the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech on that occasion.

Trayvon Martin was, for the black community, a symbol of every young black male, each with vivid memories of averted faces, abrupt street crossings, clicking car locks and insulting police searches. As we move up the socioeconomic scale, the memories extend to attractive job openings that suddenly disappear when a black man applies, to blacks interviewed just to prove that a company tried, and even to a president some still hate for his color. It’s understandable that Trayvon Martin serves as a concrete emblem of the utterly unacceptable abuse, even today, of young black men.

But for others this young black man became a symbol of other disturbing realities; that, for example, those most likely to drop out of school, belong to gangs and commit violent crimes are those who “look like” Trayvon Martin. For them — however mistakenly — his case evokes the disturbing amount of antisocial behavior among young black males.

Trayvon Martin’s killing focused our national discussion because Americans made him a concrete model of opposing moral judgments about the plight of young black men. Is it because of their own lack of values and self-discipline, or to the vicious prejudice against them? Given either of these judgments, many conclude that we need more laws — against discrimination if you are in one camp, and against violent crime if you are in the other — and stronger penalties to solve our racial problems.

There may be some sense to more legislation, but after many years of both “getting tough on crime” and passing civil rights acts, we may be scraping the bottom of the legal barrel. In any case, underlying the partial truths of the two moral pictures, there is a deeper issue. We need to recognize that our continuing problems about race are essentially rooted in a fundamental injustice of our economic system.

This is a point that Martin Luther King Jr. made in his “I Have a Dream” speech, one rightly emphasized by a number of commentators on the anniversary of that speech, including President Obama and Joseph Stiglitz. Dr. King made the point in a striking image at the beginning of his speech. “The Negro is not free,” he said, because he “lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast sea of material prosperity.” In 2011, for 28 percent of African-Americans, the island was still there, the source of both images of Trayvon Martin.

The poverty is not an accident. Our free-enterprise system generates enough wealth to eliminate Dr. King’s island. But we primarily direct the system toward individuals’ freedom to amass personal wealth. Big winners beget big losers, and a result is a socioeconomic underclass deprived of the basic goods necessary for a fulfilling human life: adequate food, housing, health care and education, as well as meaningful and secure employment. (Another Opinionator series, The Great Divide, examines such inequalities in detail each week.)

People should be allowed to pursue their happiness in the competitive market. But it makes no sense to require people to compete in the market for basic goods. Those who lack such goods have little chance of winning them in competition with those who already have them. This is what leads to an underclass exhibiting the antisocial behavior condemned by one picture of young black men and the object of the prejudice condemned by the other picture.

We need to move from outrage over the existence of an underclass to serious policy discussions about economic justice, with the first issue being whether our current capitalist system is inevitably unjust. If it is, is there a feasible way of reforming or even replacing it? If it is not, what methods does it offer for eliminating the injustice?

It is easy — and true — to say that a society as wealthy as ours should be able to keep people from being unhappy because they do not have enough to eat, have no safe place to live, have no access to good education and medical care, or cannot find a job.  But this doesn’t tell us how — if at all — to do what needs to be done. My point here is just that saying it can’t be done expresses not realism but despair. Unless we work for this fundamental justice, then we must reconcile ourselves to a society with a permanent underclass, a class that, given our history, will almost surely be racially defined. Then the bitter conflict between the two pictures of this class will never end, because the injustice that creates it will last forever. Dr. King’s island will never disappear, and there will always be another Trayvon Martin.


By: Gary Gutting, The New York Time, September 11, 2013

September 13, 2013 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Poverty | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Sunday Has Come, A Sunday Has Gone”: How Will We Remember The Birmingham Church Bombing?

When Emily Raboteau, daughter of famous historian Al Raboteau, traveled with a group of undergraduate students to Birmingham, Alabama, she met Chris McNair, a man haunted by the past. McNair is the father of Denise, who died at the tender age of 11, fifty years ago on September 15, 1963—one of four girls killed by the bomb that rocked the foundations of the city’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.

Only three weeks after the March on Washington, when Martin Luther King Jr. had shared his dream of a future where young white boys and black boys, white girls and black girls, would hold hands, Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, and Carole Robertson were denied that future.

In her remarkable Searching for Zion, published earlier this year, Raboteau describes McNair’s shrine to his daughter’s memory: “a pair of black patent leather shoes and matching purse, a charm bracelet, a tiny two-inch child’s Bible, a blue floral handkerchief, and the jagged piece of concrete removed from her skull.” When one of the students asked if Mr. McNair had forgiven the white supremacists who took his daughter’s life, his answer was righteous rage.

God, McNair said, “would destroy Alabama by wiping it clean with His hand.”

In the realm of our public memories of the civil rights movement, could anything be more un-King-like? Wasn’t the civil rights movement about reconciliation and hope? Wasn’t it called the March on Washington for Jesus and Forgiveness? (Nope, it was for “Jobs and Freedom.”)

Three weeks ago, we were celebrating the March on Washington; we were watching and listening to King as we do each January on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a holiday created in the conservative era of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. This year was precious, for it marked the fiftieth anniversary and we commemorated the day with another march, televised like the one in 1963. But on this occasion we discussed and judged it in Twitter feeds, Facebook accounts, and on a host of 24 hour news programs.

How do we balance King’s dream with McNair’s nightmare in our supposedly post-racial and now-digital age? We still live in a country of freedom dreams and violent nightmares.

The nation has a black president and the outpouring of joy in 2008 was hard to quantify, but young black men are still murdered and imprisoned in epic numbers. We have rising integration in schools and businesses, but Christian churches lag behind tremendously—and often fuel the fires of other racial conflicts and controversies.

And as we go, the digital and media realms allow for increased chatter about all of it, leaving some of us to wonder if the democratic cacophony actually encourages hate.

After that church bombing a half century ago, Americans seemed to have more questions than answers. With the tools of their time they spoke into the sadness. King went to Birmingham and eulogized three of the deceased girls. He told the mourners that the girls “did not die in vain” and the crowd responded “Yeah!” He told them that “God still has a way of wringing good out of evil” and the people said “Oh yes.” But there would be no Lazarus moment—Mary and Martha would still have to mourn.

When Reinhold Niebuhr addressed the bombing, he sighed that “we have to admit first of all that we have miserably failed to give the Christian message a real content.” The white churches, Niebuhr intoned, “have failed.” Anne Moody, the young civil rights activist, made a striking declaration: if God was white, she was done with him. But if when she got to heaven she found out that God was black, she would “try my best to kill you.”

In 1964 folk singer Joan Baez lamented the limits of song in Richard Fariña’s “Birmingham Sunday“:

A Sunday has come,
A Sunday has gone,
And I can’t do much more
than to sing you a song.

How will future generations remember our time? Fifty years from now, my guess is that most Americans will once again remember the March on Washington with pride. Those who hear about the Birmingham church bombing will experience a sense of sadness. “Birmingham Sunday” will still be available on Youtube (or whatever new technology there is) and Sixteenth Street Baptist Church will still host memorials. The March will loom larger, but Birmingham will still haunt the nation.

What great sermons, theological statements, social activist spiritual ruminations, or musical interventions will be recalled of our trials and tribulations? Will there be a song to lament Trayvon Martin that will move us fifty years from now? Will there be a preacher who stands amid the crisis and prophetically reveals a way from despair to hope? And in what media will it be recalled: cinematically? musically? can web pages hold these kinds of memories?

I hope we can remember Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, and Carole Robertson not simply for dying, but also for living. They played, they giggled, they went to school and church. We may not have videotape of them leading a march or Facebook accounts where they had posted pictures, yet they can still be present in our collective imaginations as more than the tragedy of collateral damage. When we consider making a better America, perhaps we can make it for young boys and girls who are very much like them.


By: Edward J. Blum, Religion Dispatches, September 10, 2013

September 12, 2013 Posted by | Civil Rights, Racism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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