A couple of years ago, I spoke with my nephew about, for lack of a better term, the state of black life. My nephew was getting all militant and said that racism is as bad now as it was 60 or more years ago. I pulled out a line I'd recently picked up from the Rev. Robert Jones that I thought was slick: "If you think things are as bad now as they were back then, you weren't around back then."
That shut him up.
But now I'm starting to think I need to give him a call and take it back. As I remember it, I'm not sure if bluesman Jones said that directly or was quoting someone else as he told a story introducing a song. Either way I'm thinking things are pretty rough out here now.
In the aftermath of the Michael Brown killing in Ferguson, Mo., and that of Eric Garner in New York, the spotlight has been put on the numerous similar tragic outcomes of black people encountering law enforcement in recent years. The fear of black people is off the hook, and any hint of impropriety from a black person can be met with deadly force while white people get the benefit of a doubt.
One of the most recent examples is the killing of Aura Rosser by Ann Arbor police on Nov. 9, 2014. Her boyfriend called police to escort her from his home while they were arguing. When police arrived the argument was still in progress. Police allege that Rosser confronted them with a knife, and one officer shot her dead.
The killing is under investigation and the boyfriend's story is not exactly the same as that of the police. The allegation that Rosser "confronted" police with a knife would seem damning.
However, contrast that with the story of Julia Shields. Last month the Tennessee woman donned body armor and drove around Chattanooga, shot at people, led police on a chase, and pointed her gun at an officer. The white woman was arrested without injury and is charged with attempted first-degree murder and aggravated assault, among other things. As far as I can glean from news reports, police didn't even shoot at her as she waved her gun at motorists she passed during the chase.
Try driving like that while black!
The next piece of evidence is the killing of Tamir Rice, 12, by a Cleveland police officer. Someone called police because a young black male was pointing a gun that was "probably fake" at people in a Cleveland park. Police showed up and shot him within two seconds of arriving at the park, and Rice died the next day. The officers say he "reached" for the gun in his waistband. The "gun" was a toy. Rice's death was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner, but a grand jury will decide if either of the officers is charged.
If there is a charge, it will be unusual — and scant relief to Rice's family as they mourn his loss.
In case you think police were justified in killing Rice, consider the case of Kalamazoo open-carry activist Joseph Houseman. Last May, Houseman stood in front of a Dairy Queen holding a rifle and shouting at passers-by. When police arrived, Houseman flipped the bird at them, grabbed his crotch, and talked about a revolution. At one point Houseman said, "I can threaten you if I want to. ... I can threaten your family."
Police stood by talking to him for 40 minutes before he put down the gun. A 911 caller had said that Houseman was drunk. He refused a breathalyzer test so police took his gun — but returned it to him the next day. A Kalamazoo police official said that Michigan is an open-carry state, and that Houseman was not "brandishing" the weapon, so there are no charges in the incident.
Houseman got 40 minutes of negotiation; Rice was summarily executed without a word.
Here's another one. In August 2014, John Crawford III was killed by police inside a Beaverton, Ohio, Walmart while carrying an air rifle that is sold at the store. A fellow customer called police, claiming he was pointing it at people. The customer has since said, "At no point did he shoulder the rifle and point it at somebody."
It doesn't matter much; when police arrived Crawford was talking on a cellphone. Police shot him, they say, when Crawford turned toward them. Witnesses say police shot him immediately on arrival. There were no charges in the killing.
On the other hand, two drunken white guys shot up a Walmart with BB guns last month. After claiming they were going to shoot the place up and proceeding to do so, they were arrested without incident by police. Apparently if you are white you can shoot the place up, and if you're black you can't even hold a toy gun.
All of this shows that black lives are not valued in this country. These are just a handful of police incidents and doesn't reflect the private citizens whose fear of blacks is backed with a gun.
One group addressing solutions is Black Lives Matter, an organization that sprang up in 2012 after George Zimmerman was acquitted after killing Trayvon Martin. Local activists, who meet at noon on Saturdays at the Phoenix Café on John R Road in Hazel Park, are planning a response to any ruling that comes down regarding charges in the Rice case.
Is it better now than in the past? Who cares? We've got more than enough crap to clean up today.