There is no dearth of data that African-American men and youths are indiscriminately stopped, brutalized, jailed, and many of the times, especially in recent times, killed by the American society and its judicial system. The data abounds. From Amadou Diallo in New York in 1999, Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012, and just in this 2014, we have Eric Garner in Staten Island: July 17; Michael Brown in Ferguson: August 9; Akai Gurley in Brooklyn: November 20, and Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio in November 22. The list continues.
Call it accidental killing or whatever cliché authorities across America may come up with to euphemize the forceful taking of an innocent life, African-American men and teens are killed like flies all over the country without any form of justice for the dead or consequences for their killers. Everybody knows, from the George Zimmerman trial charade in Florida, the grand jury travesty in Ferguson, and in the word of Fox News panelist Charles Krauthammer, the ‘totally incomprehensible’ grand jury decision in Staten Island, that America is saying unequivocally to the world that the life of an African-American man means shit (forgive my French) to them.
Charles J. Johnson, digital news editor at the Chicago Tribune, has detailed his firsthand experience of how the police, during presumed hostile situations alters their rules of engagement, depending on the race of the presumed criminal involved. If the situation involves an African-American man, the default reaction would be to kill him on sight. The very reason officer Timothy Loehmann of the Cleveland Police killed 12-year old Tamir Rice within split seconds of arriving at the scene where the child was playing with his toy gun. Conversely, when the situation involves a white man, the rules changes and the default police training of negotiating a peaceful surrender of the criminal comes to play. And no situation demonstrates this better than the arrest of 31-year old Eric Frein – a white man. Despite killing a state of Pennsylvania trooper and injuring another, and despite being one of the FBI’s 10-most-wanted fugitives, when he (Frein) was reportedly cornered by U.S. Marshalls at his hideout on October 30, 2014, after 48-days of manhunt following his killing of the trooper, he was given a chance to surrender. A known killer. A grown man who has used firearm to kill and was reportedly armed, according to USA Today, at the time of his “surrender.” But a 12-year old child with a toy guy wouldn’t even be spared a 1 minute window to respond to police.
An analysis by ProPublica, a non-profit news company shows that young African-American men are 21 times more likely to be killed by police than young white men. These data are in public domain for all to see. They are irrefutable, they are not subject to argument, political manipulation, or any leap of intellectual faith. They are a national embarrassment, a threat to national cohesion, and renders ludicrous the U.S. international posture on justice anytime injustice is carried out against the citizenry of other nations by their own government.
But this essay is not about these data. I have already written a related article on it and will in the future revisit this subject of national shame. I will keep talking about it until I see genuine national movement to redress this pervasive injustice against the African-American man. But in this space, I want to talk about the other data that came out of Ferguson that nobody has considered paying closer attention to.
Which is the fact that 67.4% of Ferguson’s population is African-American. Over 2/3 of the total population. Meaning, to a 2-year old, that African-Americans are the majority in Ferguson. Not just the majority, but they are super-majority. The dominant race. In the United States Senate context, they can pass any legislation they want to pass and if the President of the United States should veto it, they will use their 2/3 majority to override the presidential veto. They could literally pass any legislation they want, whenever they want, and however they want. They, in a nutshell, hold all the aces.
But in this city dominated by African-Americans, the mayor of the city is white. The police chief is white. The very police that is ‘killin em’ is 94% white – there is only 3 African-Americans out of 53 police officers in the city. Of their six city council members, only one is African-American. The local school board has six white members and one Latino, and the list goes on and on. So the Ferguson-big question that begs for answer is this:
“In a city where folks complain about racial discrimination, police profiling, and lack of access to opportunities; in a city where 86 percent of traffic stops and 92 percent of all arrests were of African-American residents; a city in America, America where democracy rules, democracy which is a game of numbers, a game of numbers where the majority carries the vote, why in the heck are the super-majority so super-underrepresented? To ask the hard question that nobody want to ask because it may offend people, the politically incorrect question: what the heck is wrong with the African-American community in Ferguson, Missouri?”
Before I jump into analyzing the above questions, I think it is important that I introduce myself to the reader.
I emigrated from Nigeria (African country) to the United States of [America]. So I assume myself to be African-American by definition because African-American refers to an American of African descent. Be you a descendant of a slave; a first, second, third or later generation of free Africans that immigrated to the United States; or be you a present day African born outside the shores of the U.S. but obtained your citizenship by naturalization. We all are African-Americans. The same way Caucasian immigrants from Europe, Canada, and Australia are generally referred to as whites.
I took the pain to define myself in the above paragraph because the position I will be taking in subsequent paragraphs are positions that if a Caucasian should publicly speak of, will earn him or her the label of a racist. But I will take the position because our problem as a people, some of time is not of the design of white folks, but actually resides within us through the daily choices we make. And in times like this, both introspection and some ‘chastising in love’ is required of us so that we can make the necessary amends and better advance our cause.
Now the last time I heard about the minority lording it over the majority was during the apartheid regime in South Africa. And no matter what leap of intellectual faith one may wish to make in order to explain something intangible in terms of something that is, I hereby decree that apartheid was not a democratic system of government. Because when South Africa first experimented with democracy and the people of South Africa went to the polls to vote, we saw the result. The majority had their say and Nelson Mandela became the first Black president of South Africa.
But Ferguson, Missouri is no South Africa because in the United States, democracy has passed the stage of experimentation and has been in practice for over 237 years. So why is it hard for the African-American community in Ferguson, despite their sufferings at the hands of the minority who rule over them, to take their destiny in their own hands? It doesn’t require rocket science to know that all it requires for the majority to dominate the political discourse in Ferguson is for them to choose from among themselves some well qualified sons and daughters to run for public offices, support their campaign drive, and troop out en masse on Election Day to vote them into office. It’s that simple. I mean this is America. And vote count. Everybody knows that. So if I am being oppressed by policies of elected officials in my community and I CAN ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING TO CHANGE THAT – Go Vote!, why the heck not? So I prop up viable candidates who will have my back and with my preponderant voting power, I vote them in and vote my oppressors out. Wouldn’t that be commonsensical?
So why are they not doing that? Because the documented grievances of the African-American community in Ferguson dates way back beyond August 9, 2014?
Right wing politicians say that African-Americans are lazy. Right wing politicians know that African-Americans are a major voting bloc for the Democratic Party. And based on this perception of laziness on the part of African-Americans, right wing politicians, in order to disenfranchise African-Americans from voting on elections, utilizes every opportunity they have to make voting laws that not only outlaws early voting, but also states that you must have a particular type of state issued identification in order to vote. And the endgame is that African-Americans, being supposedly lazy will not afford the purposefulness to stand on long voting lines for hours on election day(s) in order to wait for their turn to cast their vote for their preferred candidate. Hence they will stay their lazy ass at home on Election Day and the right-wingers will carry the day. And since they are supposedly lazy, they will also find it hard to afford the time, money and the patience it requires to go and obtain the prescribed identity card necessary to qualify for voting.
How true is this perception? Are we African-Americans truly lazy?
Jerald Roberson is my co-worker, business partner, and friend. A vibrant young African-American man that is about to turn 31. He is a fourth-generation Roberson, typical Houstonian, born and bred. I joined my present workplace in early February of this year where I met Jerald, and before then, Jerald has been working here for two straight years. A professional of the first order. Jerald and I work the same twelve hour shift, Monday through Saturday. Besides our regular schedule at our present workplace, Jerald and I have a business partnership that provides office supplies and janitorial services to businesses. This we do in the morning hours of weekdays before our shift start. And on Sundays, Jerald, a seasoned guitar player, plays at three different churches, raking in the money. Who in his right mind, will call this fella lazy?
There are many Jeralds out there in African-American communities across America who work hard and round the clock to eke out a decent life for themselves and their family. Male and female. They do not depend on government for anything. Rather they grow their businesses. They employ people. They pay their taxes. They vote. And they contribute in every possible way they can to the health of the nation.
But still there is Ferguson and the undeniable and inexplicable fact that it is the failure of the African-American community to participate, albeit in their numbers, in the political processes of that city, that is keeping them down when they should be up, based on their number. A self-inflicted suffering. But why?
Meanwhile I submit that African-Americans, even as I have demonstrated with the Jerald Roberson example, are not lazy as right-wingers postulate. And we vote. And it is our vote that guarantees Senator Thad Cochran, the senior U.S. Senator from Mississippi and a member of the Republican Party for that matter, a seat in the 114th United States Congress. However, I must also submit that some African-American communities are precluded from participating in the political processes, both local and national, as a result of carry-over of centuries of sustained indifference towards a political process that excluded their own. A legacy of slavery and racism. First we couldn’t vote. Then when we were finally allowed to, there is never any man or woman on the ballot that looked like us. Hence folks got tired of going to polls through and through to vote for white men whom they believed does not have the interest of the African-American man at heart. Hence the prevalent mindset of “My vote doesn’t count. Whether I vote or not, they will still do what they want to do. So I’ll rather spend my treasured time at home watching TV and let them do their voting by themselves and for themselves.” And this mindset, like a bad habit, has lasted through many generations to the present age, an age where a Black man is the president. This habit is endemic mostly in poor African-American neighborhoods and inner cities like Ferguson because of lack of education, and it MUST stop if Ferguson and other places like it are gonna evolve politically for the interest of the African-American man.
It has to be stopped by preachers who need to remind their parishioners that the era of slavery is over and that the lame excuses of “I don’t want to participate in ‘their’ political processes” and “blame it all on the white man” does not hold water anymore because African-American men and women are now in the ballots. And President Obama is of course, Black. So is Eric Holder. Chastise them in love.
It has to be stopped by community leaders and classroom teachers who must instruct their communities and pupils that they owe themselves, their families, their communities, and their dear country the civic duty of participating in the now all-inclusive political processes of voting and being voted for.
And most importantly, it behooves African-American parents, mostly in the inner cities of America, though poor, to:
- Inspire in them the desire to dream; and
- Educate their children to believe that they can be better, not only for themselves, but for their communities at large;
- Rather than school them on slavery which only engenders the believe that the white man is standing on their way to success, inculcate in them the knowledge that they are born in the greatest country on earth where opportunities for success are limitless. And that they can be whatever they want to be in life including a politician who can use his or her public office to effect positive change.
When this is done, folks will be able to sift through what things are necessary in their life and what things are just unimportant. Folks will be able realize that it is more purposeful to wait on the voting line for hours, under the sun and if necessary, in the rain, no matter how long it takes, to cast their vote, not just because it is their civic duty, but because participating in the political process is the only way they can effect the change they want to see in their City Halls, their Governor’s Mansions, and in The White House.
I do not have a problem with folks queueing on the long line for hours to buy Michael Jordan’s shoe. But when folks can afford to queue on the long lines for hours just to buy Jordan’s shoe, which can wear out and lose its value in couple of months, but are reluctant to invest the same or less amount of time to queue on the line to vote, an act that can determine how their life is run at least for four solid years, that, my friends, is irresponsible.
It is less expensive in terms of time, money, and security, to secure, prior to Election Day, whatever prescribed form of identification, any state requires for voting and to actually to go out and vote on Election Day, than it is to protest the fallout of decisions and policies of the wrong candidate that won the election that you chose not to participate in.
Every ethnic community in every city, every congressional district, and every state always have time to listen to different candidates that are running for different offices that requires their vote. And they know who have their back and who does not. And as the African-American community in Mississippi demonstrated in the Republican Party primary for the just-concluded 2014 midterm election, when they nominated the incumbent Senator Thad Cochran in an open primary, you can always decide, by your votes, who represents you in government or who governs you. Chris McDaniel, the primary opponent of Senator Cochran made it clear to the African-American community in his senatorial district that he was not going to be their senator if he is elected. He sent that signal to them. They read him loud and clear, and through the power of their vote, they told him that indeed he will not even get to be a senator in the first place, talkless of whose senator he is going to be and whose senator he won’t be.
And for a city like Ferguson where African-Americans are the super-majority but are put down by the policies of elected officials, there is no better way to protest the injustice of Michael Brown’s death than at the next Election Day. I have no doubt in my mind that there are qualified African-Americans in that city who can competently and equitably deliver on the mandates of each of the public offices of that city. From the office of the mayor, through the police chief, the city council, and the school boards. Those likely candidates should not just gather talking points for the TV as this current protest rages, they should above all else seize this opportunity to prepare themselves to lead and in due time, declare their interest to govern that city. And it is incumbent on the aggrieved community, in accordance with the electoral laws of that city and of the state of Missouri, to prepare themselves to vote in the next election cycle. They need to step up and get all the required identification for voting. And if early elections is outlawed, so be it. It is not only outlawed for African-Americans and Democrats, it is also outlawed for Republicans and whites. Stop whining, all ye Democratic Party politicians. Get your demography to prepare to vote on Election Day. People sleep at Best Buys and Walmart on Thursday nights in order to be at the front lines for Black Friday sales. That’s to show the degree of importance electronic gadgets are to them. For an aggrieved community like Ferguson, voting in the next election cycle to own your destiny should be more important to you than Black Fridays, I-Phone sales, and another sales of Michael Jordan’s sneakers combined.
Someone said that ‘change happens when enough people stand up to demand for it. At the ballot box if they can. At the street if they must.’ So far the street protest in Ferguson is marred by criminal activities which have overshadowed the reason for the protest. And it will not bring the desired change. You African-American community of the City of Ferguson, Missouri, you all should prepare yourselves for the next election cycle. At the ballot box and only at the ballot box can you realize the change you demand!
Let the debate continue…