Citizens, black, white, brown and yellow, young and old, citizens from all faiths and walks of life, from all over the nation have watched with mixed emotions at the turn of events that have occurred over the past two weeks. We have seen peaceful protests and people of goodwill marching in unison calling America ‘s attention to the injustice suffered by African Americans for over four hundred years.
Unfortunately, and with deep regret we have seen events that did not represent the patriotic intentions, acts, or aspirations of civic minded people throughout the nation. More sadly, we have seen citizens of good will and intentions being rushed and trampled by the National Guard and the local DC police force so that President Trump could walk across the streets in front of the White House for a photo shoot while brandishing a closed Holy Bible upside down
The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota has not only sparked attention but has ignited a firestorm, one of which the nation has never seen before nor hopes to see ever again. This fire storm is not a new phenomenon because the flames did not begin on yesterday, its roots and sparking embers have their beginnings in the belly of a slave ship headed to the new world with a bounty of captured slaves, a horrible scene which is now part, parcel and legacy of America’s dark, inescapable and ugly history.
The events that have now erupted across the nation, i.e. the marches, the protests, the killing of unarmed African American citizens is a huge governing failure on the part of society and a foreshadowing of things to come if America fails to finally listen, respond, act upon the cries, pleas and demands of a neglected people who are weary, angry, have run out of patience and are feeling hopeless over a system of racism that has intentionally and deliberately disenfranchised them for much too long. Peaceful protestors are being heard worldwide, protester are heard chanting, no justice, no peace, justice for George Floyd, say their names, Black lives matter, these chants are a resounding refrain of an anthem that we want justice, we want peace, we want to be free from police brutality, we will not stop marching and protesting until we as a people can breathe again. These protesters are in search of “one America” one with liberty and order.
The fallout from centuries of injustice that characterizes the plight of millions of African American citizens, (the enduring pain and suffering, the cruelty and injustice, systematic discrimination, constant acts of violence and intimidation by law enforcement, and the police brutality that has and continues to visit upon and afflict African American communities) lay bare before the nation for the entire world to see America for what it truly stands for during a time of internal crisis, and has once again highlighted what can occur when there is a denial of America’s basic constitutional rights, life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. This denial has sparked national unrest and presented the nation with a dilemma and a challenge to get it right. America has reached a tipping point and is facing a predicament that it can no longer ignore or retreat and hide its dirty hands from. This dilemma is in the nation’s face, and the nation must confront and address this dilemma, or this dilemma will overtake and destroy this nation.
For centuries African American citizens with the assistance of the NAACP and other civil rights organizations have fought to outlaw the institution of slavery and racism which were sanctioned, condoned and promoted by local and national governments. These organizations have also fought to overturn Jim Crow Laws, outlaw discrimination and stop police brutality, halt economic and political oppression, and have fought to ensure that every American citizen has the right to vote in local and national elections. Citizens have assembled and protested in towns and city halls , descended upon state capitals, appeared before legislative bodies, walked the corridors of the United States Congress, gathered and petitioned the office of the President of the United States of America demanding that changes be made regarding the ill treatment of people of color.
Sadly, the pleas for help and the sounds of tired footsteps from years of protest and marching have gone ignored and the nation now has come face to face with the ghosts, senseless killings and deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Jamar Clark, Breonna Taylor, Dominique Clayton, Botham Jean, Stephon Clark, Michael Brown, Ezell Ford, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Travon Martin, Walter Scott, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and the list goes on The nation must face the fact that from 1980 to 2019 over 280 thousand African men and women have been killed in America, too many of which have been at the hands of law enforcement. By contrast roughly 58,000 men died in Vietnam. These killings magnify a long-standing need and obligation to address such a tragic ending and state of affairs in America.
While we have seen police chiefs across the country marching with and embracing protesters, kneeling and leading prayer vigils with protestors, and police chiefs apologizing for the past transgressions and brutality of police officers, it’s not enough. We were hoping to hear white evangelicals condemning their past sins for condoning and supporting systematic racism, but they have remained silent on the issues. While we have heard confessions from NFL commissioner Roger Gödel stating that it was wrong to punish professional football players for taking a knee when the national anthem is played, he now realizes that the controversy was not about the American flag but was all about race. Gödel has been on national television trying to offer words of comfort and to do damage control after Colin Kaepernick’ (who led a peaceful protest) professional football career was wreathed and laid to rest; it’s not enough.
While we have seen Drew Brees, quarterback for the New Orleans Saints one day condemning football players for kneeling while the national anthem is played, a few days later he too is on national TV weeping and crying, apologizing for his comments, stating that the he was sorry for what he said, weeping and trying to show that he is not a racist. Though Brees apologized, and his apology was accepted by many players, it’s not enough. Gödel and Brees both have come to the realization that two thirds of the players who make up the National Football League are African American. Fans have heard no comments from team owners regarding these apologies.
From all indications, President Trump hasn’t gotten there yet, especially when it comes to race issues when he in on national TV yelling “wouldn’t you like to fire all the sons of bitches”, hearing him at political rallies screaming; “would it be nice to hear National Football League owners throwing the sons of bitches out, hear them saying you are fired; at a rally touting throw him out, I will pay the doctor bill” Trump was heard saying in a speech addressed to African Americans, “What the hell, you live in rat infested cities, you have no jobs, what do you have to loose, and referring to third world countries, as S hole countries” Trump continues to flame the fires of racism and discontentment by threatening to line the streets of Washington D.C with 10,000 American soldiers from the military, have tanks rolling through the streets, paratroopers falling from the sky, with camouflaged Navy seals and green berets infiltrating ranks of peaceful protesters, erecting concrete barriers to fortify the White house from potential insurrection efforts, an act of desperation that was not taken even during the 911 terrorist attack on the nation. Wow!! These erratic epithets and unbridled comments make it sound and appear as though we are no longer living in a democracy or in the land of the free where citizens have a constitutional right to peacefully protest and petition the government. Thank God, finally cabinet officials including Attorney General Barr and the Secretary of Defense balked at the threat and (we are told) rebuked the President and the threat was not executed.
Because it’s not enough for a haphazard apology, police chiefs kneeling with protesters, the real need is to enact laws and provisions that will protect African American citizens from racial injustice, prejudice and violence. African Americans are calling upon legislative bodies throughout the country to speak up, act up, vote up and enact laws and measures that will stop the killing, laws that will protect African American citizens against the violence and hate crimes that are sweeping across the nation. Please vote to Protect African American citizens from police officers who are sworn to protect and defend all communities and all people. Such measures are needed to curtail and/or control the behavior of rogue white police officers who seemingly are bent on beating, terrorizing and killing African American citizens without any fear of retribution.
These events have caused us to call upon our elected officials to help to make a difference. We ask that you join in and become a force for change enacting legislation, swiftly passing statutes and laws that will eliminate deadly choke holds that have been exercised by police officers used to murder Eric Garner and now George Floyd. We ask you to carefully examine and establish ordinances that are designed to regulate the practices of police departments across the country. The nation’s entire justice system must be reformed and revamped once and for all so that the oppressive police practices exhibited toward American citizens will become a distant memory and that people of color will no longer have to live in fear of being unlawfully attacked, beaten or murdered by police officers.
We pray that the nation will join in and offer support to the African American community in this historical journey to make America free so that one day we can all sing together with conviction and meaning, America the beautiful, crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea. We are encouraging every citizen to register to vote and get to the polls in November and vote, vote, vote.
Dr. Herbert Simmons, Jr. is an associate Professor, Department of Criminal Justice, Grambling State University, former President, Grambling State University Faculty Senate and former Chair, Department of Consumer Education and Resource Management, Howard University, Washington, D.C.