The Ugly Truth
The death of Michael Brown and the Ferguson situation while tragic is nothing new. We have seen this before; we have done this before; we have been here before.
“Jim Crow’ brought us the Wilmington Riot of 1878, the Atlanta Riot and the Brownsville Affair of 1906, the Waco Horror of 1916, the Red Summer and the Elaine Arkansas Riot of 1919, the Tulsa Riot of 1921, and the Scottsboro Boys of 1931.” See the Rise of Jim Crow http://www.pbs.org/wnet/jimcrow/stories_events_browns.html.
We have lived through Rodney King, experienced Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis and witnessed the Jenna Six. This latest outrage is merely déjà vu all over again. There is however an important distinction between then and now. It is a distinction that is not easily discussed but must be addressed. That difference is the ugly truth of culpability.
In the not too distant past, we may have been uneducated, but were hardly stupid. We knew right from wrong and the value of a good education. We were possessed of a spiritual prosperity wherein our homes, our possessions and our cultural were treasures, not to be lost, stolen or discarded. We might have been poor but we valued what we had. And our wealth was measured not in money but in our history of perseverance, love of family and dedication to community.
More importantly, we did nothing to worsen our situation. We did not invite trouble and took no action to aid and abet our oppressors. We watched what we said and how we acted, especially in public. We did not harm one another and avoided criminal behavior. Hence, the hatred and violence we experienced sprang from without rather than within. And while often denied we always tried. In summary, we were hardly perfect yet we were essentially good.
The now is different. To be sure, we are doing much that is right. But we are also doing much which is wrong? Whatever the circumstances surrounding the Michael Brown affair, the facts of which are murky; as deplorable as is the criminal justice system and deplorable it is; as many innocent and not so innocent lives it has taken and it does so repeatedly and without conscience, we are the enemy at the gate. It is this ugly truth of which we should be concerned.
For example, prior to the Brown killing how many Ferguson blacks have executed their brothers and sisters? How many blacks from other American communities are equally guilty of this sin? And where is the moral outrage, the marches, the protests concerning these murders?
This is not to say that the targeting of young black males by the criminal justice system does not occur. It most certainly does. If the officer in Ferguson Missouri unfairly or illegally took a life; if he violated his oath of office no matter how slight, then he should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.
However, as there is no excuse for the summary execution of blacks by the police, there is also no excuse for the abridgement of blacks by other blacks. And if the pattern of fratricide persists as it undoubtedly will, how much more blood will drip from ebony hands?
Moreover, the looting and violence which has accompanied the Ferguson incident are utterly unacceptable. So too is the rationalization thereof. These are African-Americans who do not take the fight for justice to the perceived enemy. They instead destroy their own community.
As the militarization of the Ferguson police is not a good look, neither are the images of black lawlessness. The theft, criminal damage to property and rioting only serves to obscure and subtract from the predicate injustice? In the end, it is the lawlessness that will be remembered not the loss of Michael Brown.
We cannot forget the marches, protest and speeches that occasioned the Jena Six controversy and nothing changed. We distinctly remember the demands for justice regarding Trayvon and Jordan and nothing changed. We recall with regret the riots, death and destruction that accompanied the Rodney King verdict and nothing changed.
And despite this latest angst, regardless the current sound and fury and well after the new tempest has waned, here too nothing will change, except that the community of Ferguson will be a little poorer and significantly more desolate. From a public policy position this is the last thing we need.
These incidents keep happening for a reason. There is an important lesson to be learned. That lesson is simply this. As a people, we simply must do better. We cannot be satisfied with just getting by. We can not invite trouble and then complain when it arrives. We can neither tolerate nor sanction the criminal element within our community and can no longer excuse the inexcusable. And we will not be respected until and unless we first respect ourselves.
Many will take exception to these comments. Some will conclude that we are being too hard on family. We make no pretense at divinity, admit to no monopoly on the truth and understand all too well the constant struggle of everyday survival.
But we care deeply about the plight of all people, African-Americans in particular. Throughout the ages, too many have sacrificed too much to ensure our survival. We will not squander these sacrifices by being less than those upon whose shoulders we stand.
We have greatness within us. But the path of irresponsibility and self loathing we currently tread will be our undoing. The real problem is that blacks respect blacks far less than those who oppose us. And the ugly truth is that when it comes to the abuse of African-Americans, our hands are anything but clean.
Leo Barron Hicks, Founder and CEO
Blackacre Policy Forum