White sympathy: Privilege & responsibility in the coming backlash

Although he is now safely behind bars, Dylan Roof may live to see his “race war.” But if he is sent to a prison as poorly run as New York’s Clinton Correctional Facility, some sympathetic white guard might slip him a hacksaw in frozen hamburger meat to help him escape. Just like those two convicted killers still on the loose.

Funny how ground beef keeps popping up in connection to white murderers. We now know that after they arrested Roof, the police took him to Burger King. I guess they felt sorry for him.

After confessing to the cold-blooded killing of nine innocent people—victims that Roof admitted he shot because they were black—he said he was hungry. So the sympathetic cops fed him, after taking away the weapon he had used in his deadly shooting spree .

Yet to many Americans, white privilege isn’t really a thing. Try telling that to the family of Tamir Rice.

Tamir didn’t get to ask the cops for a burger or some fries while being processed by the police. As a black male suspect, he wasn’t gently taken in for questioning like Dylan Roof. Police shot, without any warning, this 12-year-old boy—before he had a chance to explain why was playing with a toy gun in that Ohio park.tamir-rice.54ug_500

Tamir would have turned 13 today, except for one tragic fact: the officer’s aim was lethal. As the father of black sons and the grandfather of black teenage boys, my heart goes out to Tamir’s family in genuine sympathy. I share their anguish over their loss. May Tamir Rice rest in peace.

Tip for allies: Talk to children and young people about this unfair double standard, and the danger it poses for youth. Don’t let anyone get away with saying that the tilted playing field isn’t real. Help kids understand that privilege gives advantages to some and disadvantages others. Reinforce the notion explicitly that black lives matter. Don’t just say, “All lives matter.” Young people need to be taught, in this time of crisis, that specifically black lives do indeed matter.

As people of conscience share in the mourning of yet another senseless massacre, this time in South Carolina, it is heartening to see so many standing with the Charleston victims’ families. At the same time, it’s troubling to realize that for some of our fellow Americans, Dylann Roof is a folk hero, like George Zimmerman.

It’s even more disturbing to read that to others, Roof didn’t go far enough. Some have talked cruelly about his incompetence, for needing to reload so many times just to kill older women and men in a church. Our country is deeply fractured, and I really wonder what can possibly bring us together.

It’s upsetting to see both Roof and Zimmerman being celebrated for standing up to the perceived aggression of black males. Remember, Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin after picking a fight with the unarmed teenager. Zimmerman then used the excuse of “self-defense” to justify his shooting of the boy. He claimed he was merely “standing his ground.”

While there have been half-hearted calls for more effective gun control, I don’t hear too many people calling for repeal of dangerous “stand your ground” laws.

Tip for allies: Research “stand your ground” and self-defense laws in your state. Act to get them exposed and more widely publicized. We need a conversation about who the laws protect, and who they actually target.

Another thing that we haven’t talked enough about is how privilege played into Zimmerman’s legal defense strategy. He and his attorney, Mark O’Mara, counted on racialized sympathy to win an acquittal. And lo and behold, they got what they wanted. Zimmerman to this day walks around as a free man. And TV viewers have to watch O’Mara touted as some kind of expert after every police shooting. It really is sickening and painful to witness.

I mean, why do we as viewers reward the man who helped Trayvon’s killer get away with murder? Why should O’Mara enjoy a lucrative television contract? Because the media knows whose sympathies really matter, and which viewers they can count on. Their business interests keep certain personalities on the air. It’s a disgrace to consider the real reason why O’Mara gets air time. I cringe every time his face comes on-screen. O’Mara has zero credibility, and it is shameful that otherwise fair-minded people tolerate his presence on the air.

Tip for allies: Join the movement to keep O’Mara off the air. Use social media to spread the idea that his presence and participation, particularly in discussions of race, are offensive.

But against what aggression was Dylann Roof defending? By his own admission, he said he had to take action because “blacks are taking over the country and raping our women.” So in his mind, Roof was valiantly defending “his” women and “his” nation.

But which nation exactly? The Confederate States of America that seceded from the USA and fought under the Rebel battle flag? Or Rhodesia and the Union of South Africa, whose flags Roof wore as patches on his jacket?

Recall that the nations now known as Zimbabwe and the Republic of South Africa were formerly white nationalist countries. That is, until the white minority governments were overthrown through the armed struggle of Africans who had suffered enough under white supremacy. Clearly, Roof’s nationalism does not extend to our nation and the Stars & Stripes. Remember, it’s our country’s flag that he likes to burn.

dylann-roof-flag-burning

Rather than being random or irrational in carrying out his shooting spree, Roof deliberately chose the Emanuel AME Church for its historic symbolism. His research taught him that the free black leader, Denmark Vesey, famous (or infamous, depending on your own sympathies) for plotting a slave revolt in 1822, was a founding member of that church.

In the aftermath of Vesey’s planned uprising, white hysteria across the state led to the burning of the church. 300 alleged conspirators were arrested, and 35 were executed, including Denmark Vesey. Even though not one slave owner was actually killed, blacks who were intent on liberating themselves had to be taught a lesson.

None of this history was lost on Roof. Its significance should not be lost on us, either. Especially now, when our nation’s first black president is about to visit the historic and symbolic church to deliver the eulogy for its slain pastor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney. Who, by the way, was also the state senator who was leading the effort to get body cams for South Carolina police. Pinckney was organizing in response to the shooting of an unarmed black man killed in April. Mere coincidence that he was the target of Roof’s assassination plans?

Yes, we are talking about the same state where Walter Scott was gunned down after a traffic stop. As Scott fled on foot, a North Charleston police officer, Michael Slager, shot 8 rounds at the unarmed suspect. We all remember this chilling moment caught on a bystander’s camera from April 2015—the same month we were reeling from the videotaped police execution of Tamir Rice:

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So to my ears, South Carolina politicians who now call to remove the Confederate battle flag do not sound like they have suddenly had a change of heart. Events in 2015 have made their state look like a hotbed of racial tension. I’m certain the elites in charge are doing everything they can behind the scenes to avoid looking like another Ferguson or Baltimore.

They do not want thousands of angry protesters in the streets calling the world’s attention to the entrenched racist power structure in their city and state. Conventions, tourists, and prospective college students might decide to stay away, given how the state’s negative race relations are gaining media coverage around the world.

In fact, their cover has already been blown. Word is getting out that South Carolina is home to 19 hate groups. Among these are the Council of Conservative Citizens, whose website Roof claims inspired him to target the AME church. Others include six neo-Confederate groups that still advocate for secession, several branches of the Ku Klux Klan, as well as the League of the South.

One might ask, what is it about this state—this region—that makes it such a welcoming haven for hatred? Why would 19 extremist groups feel at home there? Why is this particular state the one that produced a Dylann Roof?

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that South Carolina is one of only 5 “friendly” states without a hate crime law on its books. And why is that? A more practical question is this: When will people of conscience focus less on the symbolic gesture of taking down a flag? Important, yes. But equally important is making sure we change the laws to legally protect victims (and future victims) from the actions of these extremist organizations.

Tips for allies: Consider carefully a given location’s recent progress with race relations before spending your hard-earned dollars as a vacationer, consumer, potential college student, or conference attendee. Spend some time perusing extreme right-wing websites to inform yourself.

Even on more mainstream sites, you can monitor hate-filled comments posted after news stories and opinion pieces about the Charleston tragedy, police killings of unarmed black men, and other highly racialized events. Then think about how you can challenge the emerging dangerous narrative of white victimization.

Millions of Americans feel like victims. They resent that “their” country is being taken away from them. It is revealing, but not all that surprising, to hear so many people express their feeling that Roof was justified in standing up for white rights. In a twisted racialized logic, African American members of a black church founded by a potentially violent ex-slave who planned to kill whites 200 years ago were asking to be punished.

It reminds me of the outpouring of sympathy and money raised in support of white officers after police shootings. The common thread, in essence: blacks are becoming uppity, dangerous, and out of control. They need to be taught a lesson, and put back in their place. White power needs to be maintained at all costs.

I can understand why many Americans feel that their way of life is under attack, and their God-given rights are being restricted. They want the police to feel free and unhindered to protect them from the growing black and brown menace. I can plainly see, too, that they will never give up their guns, because of the perceived danger from the burgeoning hordes. It’s sad, and admittedly scary, to see how infected so many are by fear and loathing.

And now, what is revered as a symbol of states’ rights and Southern pride is being demoted and recast as a symbol of hate. Many of our fellow citizens are becoming upset that yet again, something they hold dear to their hearts is being taken away from them, for no good reason (that they can see).

Millions of Americans already feel that their Constitutionally protected religious liberty is being threatened. Even if you think this sounds far-fetched, you can understand how this might strike them as completely un-American.

Millions also resent the way the acceptance of abortion and same-sex marriage have been shoved down their throats. For many Christians, their most cherished holidays, Christmas and Easter, can no longer be celebrated in government-sponsored institutions. School prayer has been stripped away and banished from classrooms. Their list of legitimate (to them) grievances goes on and on.

I guess I worry so much because I see evidence that lots of Americans tend to sympathize with the perpetrators of crimes against people of color. Scapegoating marginalized groups is always useful when it comes to feeding the sense of victimization that extremists try to whip into a frenzy.

I’ve watched how even mainstream media personalities waffle when it comes to covering black pain inflicted by white criminals. Repeatedly, in media coverage and elsewhere in our society, people paralyzed by privilege are struggling with how to respond to more and more outrageous acts of terror against people of color: police brutality, urban unrest and protests, a teenage pool party, a massacre in a black church. And the list goes on.

Watching TV coverage while black

It was eerie last week, watching one CNN anchor reporting on the mass shootings as the story broke. Wolf Blitzer kept referring to the killer almost sympathetically by repeatedly using Dylann Roof’s first name. Did anyone else notice this? I couldn’t help thinking that Blitzer felt sorry for the kid. It struck me that he identified with him on some level, maybe as a dad. Then I wondered how many viewers shared Blitzer’s perhaps unconscious identification with the cold-blooded executioner. Maybe because the victims weren’t white.

Then I watched the video footage of a police officer gently tucking Roof’s head down as he was put into the police cruiser. It looked like the cop practically tousled Roof’s hair in a fatherly manner. Watch Roof’s arrest again on You Tube if you think I’m exaggerating.

I contrasted the police kindness towards Roof with the rough (and too often lethal) treatment of countless numbers of men of color caught on camera being taken into police custody. This was before news broke of the police side trip to take the killer to Burger King. How tragically different was the treatment of Freddie Gray, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and other black suspects too numerous to name? Why didn’t the officers treat any of these back men and boys with the same decency and compassion? Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? What happened to our humanity? Oh that’s right: black males have never been seen as fully human.

Next, I watched a robed judge use his authority to call for empathy for the killer’s “side of the family.” As if there are two sides in some conflict. The judge actually referred to Roof’s family as “victims, too.” I watched with growing disgust this same judge, who we are now told has used the phrase “rednecks and niggers” when addressing a defendant from the bench during a different hearing. To me, the judge looked and sounded angry as he called for forgiveness. He made forgiveness sound like an obligation owed to Roof on the part of the grieving family members. And they were still in shock from their recent losses!

Finally, I watched numerous politicians, media pundits, and so-called criminal law experts argue over whether or not Roof’s murderous actions were inspired by race, considered a hate crime, an act of domestic terrorism—(yes to all of the above)—or simply inspired by mental derangement.

And then, refusing to lower the Rebel flag (or remove it altogether) was the last straw, the final insult. As an African American, I was reminded at every turn and with each new development that even the lives of these nine innocent, church-going Christians still do not really matter. Because they are black.

And this is what further enrages many of us: not just that this kind of dehumanizing treatment still occurs, over and over again. But that our fellow Americans don’t even recognize or acknowledge that it is happening. And that they actually sympathize with the perpetrators, instead of with victims of color. Decent people seem to be truly paralyzed by their privilege to see what is really going on.

Preparing for the backlash

Now that even Wal-Mart, Sears, and other big businesses have decided it’s not such a good idea to continue to sell items emblazoned with Rebel flags, I actually fear the coming backlash. It’s fine for corporations, politicians, media pundits, and members of highly educated elitists to denounce the flying of the Dixie flag. But when schools suspend students for wearing the Confederate flag on their clothing or as fingernail polish decoration, doesn’t this feed the growing resentment about the degradation of personal liberty and Constitutional rights?

As I wrote in a previous post, I don’t view Dylann Roof as an anomaly. I do not see his racist worldview as something all that out of the ordinary. True, his willingness to act violently is what sets him apart. But Roof is not so different from millions of disaffected Americans who feel increasingly victimized and abandoned by their government.

I have grave concerns that people who feel self-righteously outraged and self-pityingly victimized may soon rally around extremist groups bent on fomenting another civil war.

Last week’s slaughter was manipulated cleverly by Dylan Roof. I worry that in the smoldering public outrage at the overreach of government leaders (including just today the Supreme Court), we are in for a huge backlash. The swift, almost knee-jerk capitulation to calls to take down the flag may comfort some, in the short term. But it may fuel the resentment of many, as more and more flags and monuments come down over the long term.

We are told that Confederate flag sales have been skyrocketing, as are the sales of firearms. Now that the Court has announced that Obamacare is here to stay, the conservative right-wingers are ramping up their base. I hate to say this, but I really shudder to think how the outcry could escalate into more violence if same-sex marriage becomes the law of the land.

We need far more than symbolic gestures. We need effective leadership and anti-racist education. Allies must step up to lead real discussions to help heal these divisive issues.

We want to believe that love will win over hate. But we must make it so. We say we believe in interracial families and multicultural communities. For those particularly who declare their love for and allegiance to children and youth of color: How are you using your privilege to deflect the coming backlash?

 

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The paralysis of the privileged (Part 2)

In truth, all of us currently living in what is now known as the United States must come to terms with the legacy of profoundly troubling human relations that has infected us with false and distorted notions of superiority and inferiority.

Our first task: Own our privilege

The main idea I want to leave with you is that those of us with greater degrees of power and privilege cannot keep treating people who are different as “inferior” and expendable. This is especially important when we claim to care for members of marginalized groups, as neighbors, fellow Americans, and even family. Ignoring their human suffering does violence not only to the people we say we care about, but to the notions of faith and love that we hold sacred.

This is why, as an adoptive parent, it angers me to see how transracial and transnational adoptive families are continually touted as preferable. Why not work harder to find homes among extended family in the kids’ communities of origin, whether on reservations, in the ‘hood, or in the countries of their birth?

It also bothers me to consider what happens when Americans keep adopting children from overseas, especially from non-European nations. What is the overall message to the rest of the watching world? Are we stupid enough and arrogant enough to think that everyone around the world agrees that U.S. homes are superior?

News flash: Adoption does not equal absolution

Adopting a child of another race does not absolve us of sin. Ironically, it points to our voluntary participation in systems of oppression, which some people of conscience might consider sinful. What’s more, adoption underscores our self-serving exploitation of our privilege.

Transracial adoption highlights our personal unchecked superiority complexes that make it possible for us to participate—joyfully, ignorantly, and self-righteously even—in the heart-wrenching misery of less privileged women who suffer the loss of their kids. Throwing salt on the wound, it makes us complicit in the all too frequent post-adoption suffering of their long-lost children—now our children—whom we typically insist on raising in racial and cultural isolation, because that’s where adopters feel most comfortable.

Delusions of grandeur, delusions of privilege

No wonder we can’t see Dylann Roof for what he really is. Our unexamined superiority complexes are so deeply ingrained in our collective psyche that they shield us from the realities of our domination of others. Our bloated sense of superiority prevents us from noticing the ongoing pain caused by every person of privilege.

Furthermore, our superiority complexes feed the self-delusions that maintain the status quo. From cowardly opinions about the flag controversy, to our muddy thinking about the Charleston killer, to our tacit approval of the global adoption industry, our delusions bolster our self-image as innocent or neutral participants. In our arrogance, we get to render a verdict for ourselves as “not guilty” of any wrongdoing.

But instead of clinging to our delusions, we can choose to think for ourselves, and move beyond knee-jerk responses.

We can see the killer for what he truly is—not a freak created out of nowhere, but as one of our own misguided children: a resentful, scared son of the nation, an imperfect, wounded soul born into the unresolved human relations nightmare that has plagued these United States since Day One.

We can admit that it is time to retire the Rebel flag, once and for all.

We can stand as allies with activist adoptees and birth mothers to call for real change in the way adoption is thought about and practiced. We can work to reduce the need for adoption. We can commit ourselves to better supporting struggling families so that adoption doesn’t have to happen.

We can sow the seeds of peace by working diligently for social justice.

We can stop acting as if our way of life is the only way and our religion is the right way. We can stop pretending that our experience of the world is the best, that our families are the superior families.

Our second task: Root out every superiority complex

Dylann Roof represents nothing less than the ripening of an unhealed superiority complex taken to the extreme. His ideology about inferiority/superiority is the same ideology that we continue to pass on to all our children with each succeeding generation.

The same superiority complex that exposes our youth to dinner table diatribes about “niggers” and “illegal aliens” is the same superiority complex that celebrates the purchase of so-called orphans in the marketplace of adoption. And it is the same mentality that normalizes (and profits from) the separation of birth mothers and their children, twisting it into some grand act of charity, turning adoptive parents into heroes and saviors.

Our sick and fractured nation remains ill-prepared to offer social justice to adoptees and their natural families. And we have yet to bring social justice to other marginalized communities yearning to have their lives count as much as anyone else’s.

The Confederate flag will continue to be debated, and in our lack of clarity we will squander the opportunity to offer leadership, education, and healing, as long as we are paralyzed by our privilege.

Tragically, black, brown, and other marginalized lives will never truly matter until we root out the superiority complexes that grant us our privilege. The question remains: What will it take to force the necessary changes?

Bridging the gap: What should white people say?

Those of us in multiracial families and interracial friendships have a unique role to play. Our voices need to be heard—and I mean that quite literally—perhaps now more than ever. In this post, I offer a few suggestions about how to use the collective power of our voices, especially from white individuals, in order to shift the national conversation about race relations. I further suggest that speaking publicly can actually slow down the widening of the gap that I fear will rip the nation apart.

One of my grandsons, already big for his age at 14 years old, is in the target group that is seen as scary and suspicious by many adults. As a mixed race teenaged male, my grandson looks black. And like Michael Brown (and my son at the same age), he also looks older than he is, and gets treated as such.

happy dadJohn Raible (middle) with teenage sons back in the day.

I was curious to hear what my grandson is making of all the recent coverage in the media. He says that the only reason people are freaking out is because the incident went viral. His mom tells me that he didn’t bother to attend a local protest because, from his perspective, this stuff happens every day. I find myself asking: What will it take for him to become more of an activist? I’d rather see him become an activist for social justice than join the ranks of jaded youth who simply hate the police. Maybe neither outcome will happen unless one of his friends is shot or beat up by the cops. While my grandson and his peers can expect more and more surveillance and some harassment as they progress through the teen years, I hope and pray they are never subjected to that level of victimization.

Since I started blogging about the Ferguson rebellion, which I will remind readers is not “off topic” when it comes to parenting children of color and to the experience of TRAs of all ages, it has been interesting to follow the blog statistics collected by Word Press. Every day, the stats give me some sense of who is reading this blog, and which posts are popular. By far the most widely read post so far has been White adoptive parents and Ferguson’s mayor. Whereas a typical post gets seen by around 150 readers, the one that mentioned white adoptive parents specifically spiked to 480 views (and counting).

On a very personal level, I have some thoughts about what white people of goodwill can do to facilitate racial healing. I remember feeling vulnerable and suspicious after the Zimmerman verdict. I was sitting in an airport lobby waiting to board a plane when the news of the acquittal came out.

For me, and I’m sure for many of us, the news of the verdict was a moment of great anticipation and heightened tension. Sitting behind me watching the news was a white couple, discussing the event as it unfolded on the television screen in the waiting area. I was worried that I was going to be subjected to insensitive or even inflammatory comments from pro-Zimmerman supporters seated nearby. Surrounded by a largely white airport crowd, I found myself defensively steeling myself emotionally. In my head, I rehearsed my response. Just in case.

You may not be able to appreciate the significance of this, but I was pleasantly surprised, and actually touched, to hear the female half of the couple verbalizing empathy for Trayvon’s parents. She uttered out loud so that those of us sitting nearby could hear: “That poor boy. There is no justice. Those poor parents.”

In hindsight, it is obvious how the power of her simple, yet heartfelt utterance helped all of us within earshot to remember the humanity of this tense public moment. I will even go so far as to speculate that her bravery may have silenced the people sitting nearby who agreed with the verdict or who supported Zimmerman. I like to think that this woman’s spoken kindness and expressed empathy made it harder for haters and fear-mongers to voice their views. In doing so, that stranger was my ally, and she probably didn’t even realize it.

The impact of the Zimmerman acquittal was devastating. Watching so many of my fellow Americans rally around Trayvon’s killer left me feeling disgusted, bitter, and frightened. Finding myself sitting alone in that airport lobby, in that moment I really needed an ally. The vocalized empathy from one woman mattered. No longer did I feel so alone. I was reminded that there are still good white people who don’t see all young African Americans as animalistic thugs that deserve to die. It helped me to feel safer in a public space in a moment of heightened vulnerability. It renewed my faith in my fellow Americans, during a critical incident when that faith was flagging.

Right now, in our nation, we are facing yet another critical moment. While many of us have been upset by recent events, people of color in particular have good reason to feel scared, not just angry. Did you see the proud, strong, and passionate (and no doubt scary to some viewers) Elon James White (comedian, blogger, and host of This Week in Blackness) break down on Melissa Harris Perry’s show this morning? I can totally identify with his emotional state right now. Not only do we, as black men and fathers, fear for the safety of our young people. These critical incidents also bring back vivid memories of our own racialized mistreatment at the hands of intimidating bullies, both in uniform and in civilian clothes.

I am telling you, it would be enormously helpful for people of goodwill in this moment to express out loud their empathy and compassion. You don’t have to get into debates about the eyewitness accounts or the looters. What each of us can do, with coworkers, neighbors, and acquaintances, is offer a compassionate word of empathy and quiet encouragement.

Maybe you don’t go up to a random black person and say, “I am on your side” or “I feel your pain.” But can you talk to your friends of any race and say out loud for those around you to witness, as that nice white lady did at the airport, “That boy should not have died”? That simple statement, uttered over and over across this nation—in public, not just behind closed doors—could go a long way to facilitate the process of healing that we sorely need.

And for white adoptive parents of children of color, and members of other multiracial families, now is your moment to come of the closet. If you are white and raising a child of another race, identify yourselves as concerned parents of children of color. Let your fellow whites (as well as people of color) know that you are not all that far removed from the parents of Michael Brown. Talk about the countless victims of police brutality as if you are talking about your own child. This can help disrupt the racial binary that the mainstream media wants to keep smoldering. People need to be reminded that this is not a simple case of blacks against whites, or of good against evil. You can help to humanize the victims of the excessive use of force in the national discourse that keeps vilifying and criminalizing particularly young black males, as if they somehow get what they deserve. As if their parents don’t grieve, and their lives don’t matter.

The words coming from the mouths in white bodies make a powerful difference. I need to hear, and I am certain other people of color feel the same way, white people saying out loud that you do not defend Officer Wilson’s actions. Although it may seem obvious, in this time of crisis and heightened vulnerability, please remind us that not all white people automatically side with the police when these tragedies occur.

Help us to believe that there is still hope for fairness, compassion, and reason. Help us to trust that some whites are not in denial of our children’s lived experience as perpetual suspects. Help us to not succumb to cynicism, despair, and fear. Each of us can take small yet significant steps to express empathy, concern, and compassion. Minimally—I am not even talking about more political expressions of outrage and solidarity with communities of color. That can come later.

And for people wondering about how to convey messages of support to our youth, who are understandably feeling frightened, incensed, attacked, slandered, misunderstood, and perhaps even emotionally abandoned, now is the time to speak up. Again, find ways to voice your disapproval of the overuse of excessive force. Say out loud that you know plenty of good kids of different races. Interrupt the narrative that criminalizes African American youths by showing photos of your children, your students (if you are a teacher), and your own multiracial family. My sister in St. Louis tells me that she has used this tactic when racist comments are made in her presence. It takes courage, but courage is what is called for among allies. Find the strength to speak out on behalf of fairness, empathy, and humanization. Don’t cling to silence and hope that this will all blow over. Each one of us can make a difference. Each one of us can do a small a part in the promotion of healing and national unity.

Thank you for reading this, and thank you for caring and daring.

Related posts:

Young black men, some of us do love you

Where can we feel safe?

Where can we feel safe?

Lately, I’ve been touched by the sight of protest placards with the obvious yet poignant reminder: Black Life Matters. Yet the police response to the recent home invasion reported by NBA star Ray Allen raises more questions about the value of African American families in the eyes of the justice system. The incident gives us yet another view into the double standard applied when African Americans are involved in a crime, whether as suspects, or in this case, as victims.

 

allen1Ray & Shannon Allen with two of their children

According to USA Today and other sources, seven intruders entered the home of Ray Allen late one night while he was away. However, Allen’s wife and four young children were at home. When Shannon Allen awoke to the sound of loud male voices close by (she had been asleep with the kids), she was startled to find herself in the presence of at least five young men. Fearing for the safety of her family, Ms. Allen yelled at the intruders, who fled (some of them laughing). She then dialed 9-1-1 for help.

Police told Ms. Allen that they could not detain the youths because under current laws, an officer has to witness the trespass in order for charges to be brought.

According to the basketball star’s press release, the police also said that the incident was nothing more than a harmless prank. The intruders were not arrested because “there was no intent to commit a crime,” and because the curious teens just wanted to have a look around his mansion.

It took a week for the Allen’s attorney to finally get the police to file charges (still only a misdemeanor, by the way). The story was reported on the CBS News website like this:

Police said Alana Elizabeth Garcia, 18, Jorge Jesus Guerrero, 18, Christian John Lobo, 18, Jonathan Louis Ramirez, 19, Kevin Ramos, 18, Ernesto Romero, 18, and Angel Alejandro, 18, reportedly went into Allen’s Coral Gables home around 2:30 a.m. on Aug. 14, entering through an unlocked door.

Although I’m tempted, I’m not even going to speculate right now. But the cumulative impact of bizarre events reported over the last few weeks is reopening latent concerns. Once more, and I know I’m not alone, I find myself asking, where can African Americans feel safe? Where can we let our children lay their heads without worrying whether uninvited strangers will interrupt their slumber? When will the police protect black lives as vigorously as they protect other Americans?

The racial climate these days reminds me of the Dred Scott decision that I learned about in high school history. Remember that infamous case from 1857 in Missouri? It’s the one where the Supreme Court held that blacks have no rights that whites need to respect. I recall being taught that the flawed Supreme Court decision had been overturned by the 13th and 14th amendments. But recent official acts of disrespect for black lives and concerns is making me feel like Dred Scott is bouncing back in full force.

Quickly checking the facts of that case, I noticed the way that the Chief Justice rationalized the Court’s decision was even more outrageous than how I remembered it. Wikipedia has the Chief Justice stating his reasons for not allowing blacks to have citizenship rights as follows:

It would give to persons of the negro race …the right to enter every other State whenever they pleased, …to sojourn there as long as they pleased, to go where they pleased …the full liberty of speech in public and in private upon all subjects upon which its own citizens might speak; to hold public meetings upon political affairs, and to keep and carry arms wherever they went.

As if granting equal rights would be a bad thing.

So let me summarize the “take away” messages I fear the American public receives from recent events in the media: When a frightened African American mother calls the police for protection, regardless of how wealthy she is, no matter how exclusive her neighborhood of residence, she should not expect much. Because after all, blacks have no rights that whites are bound to respect. Black kids are not as valuable as non-black kids, and black families are worth less than others.

And then there’s the wink and nod to every perpetrator thinking of victimizing an African American: “We showed you with the Zimmerman verdict, and reinforced it with countless black lives lost at the at the hands of the police. Just last week, St. Louis cops showed you again how to claim self-defense to ‘justify’ the killing of a mentally disturbed youth. And now with the home invasion of the Allen family residence, the message is the same: You needn’t fear any serious legal consequences. Because most people understand that black lives don’t matter.”

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How to support the movement for justice

If you are outraged, like I am, by this summer’s rash of incidents of police brutality in Missouri, California, New York, and elsewhere, there are concrete steps you can take to support the movement against the use of excessive force. Each of us can and should be contributing to community efforts to police trigger-happy officers. In the process, we should be raising awareness of the criminalization of youth of color that increasingly justifies the use of excessive force, particularly in communities of color.

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In this day and age of public fund-raising using social media, I find it eerie to watch thousands of dollars being raised to support Darren Wilson’s legal defense, even though it appears unlikely that the officer will be indicted or brought to trial for killing Michael Brown. Symbolically, these fund-raising efforts have come to reflect the mood of the people. I feel strongly that progressive adults need to find ways to stand with young people, especially those who understandably feel under attack. Fund-raising is an easy yet meaningful way that those of us with decent jobs and steady incomes can offer real support.

In this post, I highlight one organization led by youth of color. There are others, but this one caught my attention as I’ve been following the news out of Ferguson. I encourage readers to check out their website and learn more about the work they are doing, and then consider making a donation.

Dream Defenders emerged in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin killing. Dream Defenders is circulating a video that illustrates a creative approach to organizing. (I tried to post it here, but apparently Word Press doesn’t accept the mp4 format I have it in.) The activists issued six demands, presented here in their own words from the end of the video:

1. President Obama should go to Ferguson to meet with local black and brown youth.

2. Attorney General Holder should meet with black and brown youth across the country that are dealing with “zero tolerance” and “broken windows” policing.”

3. Assure transparency, accountability, and safety of our communities by requiring front-facing cameras in police departments with records of racial disparity in stops, arrests, killings, and excessive force complaints.

4. Cops need consequences too. Police officers who discharge their weapon on an unarmed person should be suspended without pay pending further investigation, and their name and policing histories should be made available to the public.

5.Tanks and tear gas don’t ever belong in our communities. America should not be going to war with its citizens. Demilitarize all police departments.

6. Police should be representative of the communities they are tasked to protect and serve and community members should have real power in citizen review boards.

“We are asking young people to go to the U.S. attorneys’ office near you and demand change… This is a national problem, and we are going to apply pressure nationally.”

Let’s support this movement for justice being led by youth. Time for sympathetic adults to step up and demand change. Let’s demonstrate our love for and solidarity with young people of color.

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