Dead men walking
28th July 2014 · 0 Comments
By Edmund W. Lewis
When you’re a Black man or boy in America, you know what it feels like to live on the edge.
Emmett Till knew. Yusuf Hawkins and Trayvon Martin knew. And Eric Garner found out recently.
Garner is the 43-year-old brother from New York City killed by an NYPD officer for the unpardonable sin of selling cigarettes on the street.
As frustrating and tragic as his violent death was, Eric Garner is simply the latest piece of “strange fruit” plucked from life by the long, merciless arm of white supremacy. While he was killed with a lethal chokehold, he could have just as easily been mistaken for a prowler, shot because somebody thought he had a gun or shot in the back of the head while in handcuffs on the backseat of a police car.
All that matters is that he was Black, which is synonymous with guilty, violent and dangerous. Every Black boy in America needs to learn that Being Black can get you killed at any time.
AS the late, great Curtis Mayfield sang in “New World Order,” “the hunt is on and brothers, you’re the prey.”
You could be riding a train to a New Year’s Eve celebration in Oakland (Oscar Grant), celebrating a night out on the town in NYC before you jump the broom (Sean Bell), partying in the French Quarter on New Year’s Eve (Levon Jones), defending yourself against a carjacker in the Lower Ninth Ward (Steven Hawkins), trying to survive and find food and shelter in the wake of Hurricane Katrina (Ronald Madison, James Brissette), sitting in a car outside a family member’s home in Faubourg Tremé (Adolph Grimes III), resting in an upstairs room of your Gentilly home (Wendell Allen), or just trying to get to work as part of the early-morning shift at Burger King near City Park (Justin Sipp).
It really doesn’t matter.
All that matters is that wealthy and powerful businessmen, lawmakers, mainstream media organizations and the criminal justice system have identified you as Public Enemy No. 1, the quintessential boogeyman.
You’re the reason people cross the street, lock their car doors at the red-light and deliver tough-on-crime speeches.
You’re the ones hauled off to jail after someone raped and brutally assaulted a well-to-do white female jogger in New York’s Central Park
You’re the ones fingered as the usual suspects after Susan Smith murdered her babies by drowning them in a car in South Carolina and after Charles Stuart murdered his wife and unborn child in Boston, Mass. You’re the one initially blamed for the Boston Marathon bombing although the alleged perpetrators look nothing like you.
You’re the one murdered by a mob of bat-wielding white teenagers in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn, New York for wandering into the wrong neighborhood at night (Yusuf Hawkins), getting lost on New York’s subway system in Howard Beach, New York (Michael Wright), or reaching for your wallet while standing in the vestibule of a New York apartment building.
You’re the one — you’re always the one.
They made you disappear in the middle of the night down in Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a white woman (Emmett Till) and encouraging Black people to register to vote and stand up for their rights (Medgar Evers). They sodomized you with a broomstick handle in a New York City police precinct for simply being at the scene of a disturbance at a nightclub (Abner Louima).
They attack you all the time for looking at the police wrong, standing on the wrong corner, wearing your clothes wrong, hanging out in front of a store or having no place to go home to. You also get taken to task by law enforcement officers for Driving While Black, Shopping While Black, Succeeding While Black, Excelling While Black, Breathing While Black or Simply Being Black.
If anyone could relate to the Matrix film trilogy, it’s Black men and boys. Like Neo, the main character, Black men and boys know what it feels like to be vilified, harassed, surveyed, profiled and relentlessly attacked by a seemingly tireless army of agents working for a network with unlimited resources and a firm resolve to exterminate us.
Most of those we elect to lead us and represent our interests at City Hall, in the state legislature and in Washington, DC can’t even bring themselves to acknowledge the source and nature of our problem.
And most of the people of color who have who might be considered rich don’t appear to be conscious of the problems facing Black people or are not committed to turning things around for the masses.
It is a cruel irony that the Black folks with the greatest media exposure seem to have very little knowledge of self and no sense of purpose. Every time Black people with no sense of propose or knowledge of self open their mouths to talk about us, they set us back and lead the masses a little farther away from the path to enlightenment, empowerment and liberation.
They are themselves lost and in no position to effectively lead anyone into a future worth moving towards.
They distract the masses from bitter, medicinal truths with the power to set us free and spark a new mass movement for freedom and justice.
Simply put, the problem is this: America does not value Black people. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that America has never valued Black people but we have always found a way to survive in this strange land. We’ve always had us and historically our love, courage, tenacity, ingenuity and resilience have been enough to sustain us. We have leaned heavily on the Creator and the Ancestors for guidance and protection as we forge ahead.
Nobody’s going to save us but us, and all we have is us. We have to find a way to create conscious wealth-builders and movers and shakers with a sense of purpose. We need to look beyond these shores for justice and economic opportunities in the global community. That means returning to our past as a global people, the original sons and daughters of the Most High who were created in the image of the Creator.
We need to be willing to do whatever it takes to be free of tyranny, oppression, exploitation, abuse and domestic terrorism.
We need to move beyond merely existing as 21st-century sharecroppers and boldly step out into the world to seek our rightful place as the descendants of the ones who refused to die.
If we can’t do it for ourselves, we need to do it for all the Emmett Tills, Trayvon Martins, Eric Garners of the world and all of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren yet to come.
If not us, who? If not now, when?
This article originally published in the July 28, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.