All black and white photos are courtesy of my friend Drew Tucker.
I will never forget my first encounter with this institutional racism, it was when the shooting of Amadou Diallo came across the 6 o’clock news which my parents forced a my brother, my sister, and a 6 year old version of myself to watch instead of cartoons (reason why I am a news junkie now, which Twitter hasn’t helped). I remember seeing a fatter Rev. Al Sharpton showing anger about the situation but not really understanding why. He probably mentioned words I did not know yet plus I did not have the higher reasoning skills to understand what racism was or why this man with a funny name was so special. All I knew was that police, the good guys in my mind, had shot and killed him. Young me must have felt conflicted regarding the anger towards the police because if the show Cops had shown me anything it was that police officers only went after bad guys. Seven years later Sean Bell was killed, a fourteen year old me understood on a intermediate level what was going on because my parents have slowly been trying to explain to my siblings and myself what racism was which I never saw in overt manifestations because all the kids at my schools were black (institutional racism through segregation and white flight). Flash forward to 2012 with the death of Trayvon Martin I knew exactly what was happening and had the skills to understand that this system was not looking to protect me but to kill me and to justify my death because I am a black man in America.
It has been two days since the no indictment of Officer Daniel Panteleo in the choke hold death of Eric Garner was announced only nine days after the no indictment of Darren Wilson was announced. Though I was not surprised that the system has once again done what it was created to do, protect the white man despite the fact that the black man was unarmed, I will always be outraged by these decisions. Eric Garner was allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes which like Mike Brown allegedly stealing cigarillos, we will never be able to find out because he is dead and the officer is alive. Eric Garner’s only crime was being black in America. The whole debate that he shouldn’t have been selling the cigarettes in the first place and that he should not have resisted arrest is a part of the same troubling respectability politics narrative that we have seen people like Bill Cosby, Don Lemon and now Pharrell and Charles Barkley subscribe to. The fact remains that if Mr. Garner was breaking the law, it should have been handled in the courts not the streets with a banned move, which needs to be officially made illegal (de Blasio I am looking at you). What is worst about this entire ordeal is the fact that it was recorded from start to finish. How does a grand jury completely disregard what they have seen with their own eyes? Does the prosecutor say something like “Oh don’t believe what you are seeing it is just an illusion?” How does the jury overlook the fact that the choke hold move has been banned for years? How cannot they at least not give Eric Garner and his family the benefit of a trial? It seems like ever since Zimmerman got away with murder things have only gotten worse for being black in America and the legal system (there is no justice) is allowing it.
Racism was intentionally legislated throughout the history of America. The Garner’s initially said this was not about race which a brilliant friend of mine Zakiyyah noted that considering the system does not encourage critical thinking concerning race relations it is easy to see how they could have reached this conclusion. Also, I suspect their is a need to make this personal after all they lost a member of their family and by placing Eric Garner’s face in the multitude of others who have lost their life to the systematic violence against black men there could be the concern that his unique light will be diminished. But it is emphatically clear that this is a race issue. Race is America’s foundation as this country was founded on slavery and the genocide of the Native American population. For that reason and all the racist policies that have been enacted and in many cases still exist today, the system itself is racist. I have come to the realization that we cannot fix this system as it is not broken. The white is right narrative is longstanding and tiring. If anyone needs to see that this is a race issue just look at St. Louis as a black police officer Dawon Gore was charged with excessive force under the same leadership of Bob McCullough .How about the fact that Officer Daniel Pantaleo has been sued before for misconduct and he still was not indicted?
Last night I participated in the second march in New York which started at Foley Square and then went around the city. Being there you could feel the electricity in the air and the feeling that people off all races and backgrounds who were there see how institutional racism needs to be completely eradicated. Though I was happy to see so many people (and the 6 year old me would have been happy to being able to march in traffic), my idealism was not able to fight back my inner cynic who since the death of my hope last week has wielded an enormous amount of power on my outlook of the future. While I was in the crowd my emotions raged war within. I was afraid to say the chants because of fear that I would get angry and then not be able to do something and start to cry. I was confused because last Summer was the 50th year anniversary of the March on Washington, this Summer marked the 50th year anniversary of Freedom Summer, and 4 days ago (Dec. 1) was the day 59 years ago when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat and lit the fire that would launch the 381 day Montgomery Bus Boycott. I was confused because why was I marching? Why are WE still marching for people to realize racism is real? Why haven’t we already rebuilt the system? Why will a “post-racial” society never exist? Why do black parents have to caution their black children but still worry that they can be killed by a white police officer/person and then their child’s death will be rationalized away? Why do we have to tell people that #BlackLivesMatter? Though the message is simple #BlackLivesMatter it should not have to exist AT ALL! Dr. Khalil Muhammad asked the question on the Melissa Harris-Perry Show this past weekend that how far have we come that we no long can say “Black Power” but that we need to affirm that black people do in fact matter, if not to the system at least to their families and communities. As usual I cannot not answer these questions but more people, especially white people who benefit from white privilege, need to start critically thinking about these questions. The conversations we have had about race have always been safe because people don’t want to hurt any feelings but in order to try to start to dismantle this monster that is American Racism we need to go deep even if it hurts. If we don’t in 50 years we will be celebrating the 100th year anniversaries of the Civil Rights events and the 50th anniversary of these marches of 2014 but our children and grandchildren will still be marching.
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