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The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

(I wrote this for the Urban News in August 2020.)

In 1971, long before the Sugar Hill Gang made rap popular with “Rapper’s Delight,” there was a poet, philosopher, and jazz artist named Gil Scott-Heron who spoke more than he sang. With a jazzy beat in the background, he stated:
The revolution will not be televised
The revolution will not be brought to you
By Xerox in four parts without commercial interruptions
The revolution will not show you pictures of Nixon blowing a bugle
And leading a charge by John Mitchell, General Abrams, and Spiro Agnew
To eat hog maws confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary
The revolution will not be televised
The point of the song was that the revolution was going to be live. Everyone was going to have to participate.dd

Portland, Oregon

After the death of George Floyd, protests rang out throughout our country. Portland, Oregon was no different. The protests started in late May and continued into June. While the rest of the country was settling down, Portland continued to protest. The protesters identified Kendra James, Erin Campbell, Patrick Kimmons, and Quanice Hayes as Black residents who had been killed at the hands of the Portland police over the past several years.

In July, some of the protests turned violent. At about the same time, Donald Trump decided to send in federal troops. It is unclear from the reporting whether there was any consultation with the mayor of Portland or the governor of Oregon. The pretense that Trump used to send in federal troops was to protect “federal buildings.”

These federal troops were wearing no identifiable emblems. For the people of Portland, the stakes were now ramped up. Instead of a couple of hundred protesters, thousands were showing up. The troops—including some from the border patrol with no training in domestic policing—began shooting tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd. Arrests were made, sometimes without reason or probable cause. Cellphone footage of protesters being stuffed into unmarked cars began to circulate on social media. In late July, the governor announced that she had reached an agreement with the White House to withdraw these troops from Oregon.

I’m not sure what was accomplished. I’m not sure why we needed federal troops in an American city. I’m not sure if the whole ordeal was constitutional. I find it sad that Donald Trump’s first instinct is to use force and not to negotiate, or even talk, with protesters.

John Lewis

Congressman John Lewis died of pancreatic cancer on July 17, 2020. Although many textbooks do not point out the work that John Lewis did during the civil rights movement, he was there, and he was a major player. He was, in fact, considered one of the “big six” leaders of the movement, and the last to die.

The famous Freedom Rides that started in 1961 were an extremely simple concept. Thirteen people (seven Whites and six Blacks) were going to ride a bus from Washington, DC, to New Orleans. The whole purpose of this ride was to pressure the federal government into enforcing the 1960 Supreme Court decision (Boynton v. Virginia) that held that segregated interstate bus travel was unconstitutional.

The bus encountered angry mobs. The Freedom Riders were arrested. They were beaten. They were jailed. John Lewis was one of the original 13 riders. He was there.

A couple of years later, John Lewis became the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He was among the leaders of the marches from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery. He was severely beaten while crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge—beaten by cops with batons, blackjacks, you name it. Again, John Lewis was there, and once again he risked his life for his country—for us.

In 1963 John Lewis spoke at the March on Washington in which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. At 23, he was the youngest speaker on the dais. Once again, he was there, and he was an inspiration to the half-million people gathered on the Mall.

John Lewis was elected to Congress in 1986, representing metropolitan Atlanta, Georgia. In that role, over the next 35 years, he became known as “the conscience of the House.” He called on his fellow representatives, and his fellow citizens, from the most humble to the most exalted, to seek justice, and do the right thing. Whenever he spoke, whomever he encountered, whatever the issue at hand, no matter the anger, frustration, or rancor in the air, he spoke with love, and with joy, and with hope. For he loved his fellow human beings, and believed in his heart that they, too, were capable of that same love.

From my standpoint, John Lewis was a great humanitarian. He fought against injustice everywhere. He worked for equality, and put his life on the line for democracy. He lived as we all should live, making “good trouble” for a cause greater than ourselves. We can take a page from John Lewis’ book. He seemed to always be on the right side of history, and he was always there when and where we needed him to be. (more…)

By |2020-09-23T20:07:00-04:00September 23rd, 2020|Domestic Issues, Newsletter, Obama administration|0 Comments

Now What?

(I wrote this for the Urban News in July 2020.)

So, protests have swept the nation. There were protests from California to Texas to Florida and everywhere in between. There were protests in large cities like New York, Washington DC, and Chicago. And there were protests in small towns throughout the United States like Canton, MO, Morgantown, WV, Potsdam, NY, and Woburn, MA. More than a hundred protesters even showed up for Black Lives Matter in Pen Argyl, PA (population 3,600). The majority of the protests were peaceful. Unfortunately, there was some looting, though whether connected to protesters or simply opportunistic is in question. Lately, it appears that the protests have been centered around Confederate monuments.

This whole movement, whatever you want to call it, must be about more than pulling down Confederate monuments. There must be something tangible that comes out of all this heartache and pain.

I grew up in the South. I have lived more than 90 percent of my life in the South—from Dallas, to Shreveport, to Atlanta, to Asheville. I live and breathe southern culture. We glossed over the Civil War in high school. I did read Battle Cry of Freedom, an 800-page monstrosity written by James McPherson. It is incredibly detailed; it even appears to me that McPherson told it like it was. Like it still is.

States’ Rights v. Slavery
When you grow up in the South, you are taught that the Civil War was fought because of “states’ rights.” That is, the southern states simply wanted the right to do whatever they wanted without Washington telling them what to do. And because of this, young men took up arms against those bad old Yankees. And, the argument continues, Southerners just wanted to be free. They were rebels against too much government power.

Unfortunately, this is a nice, innocent, and utterly dishonest retelling of history. The South wanted to own slaves. The Civil War was about slavery.
Now, when I look back at it, it was almost funny, if not criminal, the way the Civil War was taught in high school. We only really covered three things: we learned about a few battles; the North won; and Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves.

That was mostly it. Oh, and there was this thing called Reconstruction, but it didn’t last.

But when you delve deeply into the War Between the States, you see something different. South Carolina was the first state to withdraw from the union. Their leaders wrote up this very nice document that resembles the Declaration of Independence in some ways. They laid out their grievances. They opined that the Constitution of States that were the original 13 states were to be “free, sovereign and independent states.” (They did write this in CAPS, just to make sure that nobody misses it.)

The truth
But toward the end of their declaration they began to rail against the “non-slaveowning states,” writing, “They have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies whose avowed object is to disrupt the peace and to eloign [take away] the property of the citizens of other states. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes, and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.”

It would be heartwarming if South Carolina were the only state that openly stated they left the union because of slavery. But, almost every one of the states that seceded had something like this in their declarations of secession. More importantly, in the Articles of Confederate States (Constitution of the Confederate States), the document that the seceded states put together, clearly delineates in Article 1, section 9 that the South was about slavery. The clearest section is subsection 4, No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in Negro slaves shall be passed.

To me, this is pretty clear. The Civil War wasn’t about honor or virtue. Now, did honor and virtue occur during the war? Of course they did. Honor and virtue appear during every war. So does noble sacrifice, and even heroism. All of these are noble qualities.

But that’s not what the Civil War was about. The Civil War was about slavery. It was about the South’s right to keep human beings enslaved as personal property; as chattel. That’s what the Civil War was all about.

Until we, as Southerners, understand this, embrace that truth, make it become one with our souls, we are doing everybody a disservice. (more…)

By |2020-09-23T19:32:15-04:00September 23rd, 2020|Civil Rights, Newsletter|0 Comments

Newsletter – Well, This is Pretty Awful

I wrote this for the Urban News for June 2020.

It is really hard to know where to start. I thought about just submitting a column that starts with expletives; it would also be completely filled with expletives and it would end with expletives. Somehow, I did not think the thoughtful editors of The Urban News would accept such an article.

It Happened Again

This time it was Minneapolis, but the sad truth is it could have happened anywhere in the United States. Another black man, George Floyd, was detained by police because he was suspected of passing counterfeit $20 bills. There was an altercation, a detainment, a handcuffing.

There was yet another infamous cellphone video. We see George Floyd being held down by a white police officer with his knee on Floyd’s neck, one hand casually in his pocket. Mr. Floyd is on his stomach with his hands cuffed behind him, and can be heard saying, “I can’t breathe.”

This is so reminiscent of Eric Garner, it hurts. It hurts badly. As you recall, Eric Garner was a black man who was stopped by police for selling individual cigarettes—a crime in New York. As he is dying, his last words are, “I can’t breathe.” The police officer used an illegal chokehold on Mr. Garner—also a crime in New York.

That was almost six years ago. As in Minneapolis, the officers do nothing to resuscitate a lifeless Garner. The police officer who used the illegal chokehold to kill Garner was fired. There was no indictment. No one went to jail.

Almost any black American—well, I should say, almost any progressive American—can name five to 10 Black Americans killed at the hands of American police officers over the past several years. Their names are widely known, the incidents infamous. Sandra Bland was pulled over in Texas for a traffic stop while visiting for anew university job. She was arrested for almost no reason, and she died in jail with no explanation. No-one was held accountable; no-one went to jail.

Michael Brown got into an altercation with a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. His offense, which ultimately cost him his life, was walking in the middle of the street. Michael Brown ignored the police request to get out of the street and walk on the sidewalk. The incident escalated and ended with Michael Brown being shot to death. The officers were not indicted; no-one went to jail. (The 13th Juror is a book that I commissioned Nelda Holder to write. It is about the death of Michael Brown.)

Tamir Rice was a 12-year-old black youth who was developmentally delayed. He was playing in a park by himself with a toy plastic gun—the way white boys play “cops and robbers” with impunity. An unidentified stranger called the police because this 12-year-old boy was playing with a toy gun. The police drove up with their guns drawn. Rice did not respond to initial instructions that were shouted at him, and two seconds after their arrival, he was shot dead. He was treated as a hardened criminal. There was an investigation and the conclusion was that shooting was “justified.”

More recently, Ahmad Aubrey, former football standout, was jogging in a neighborhood close to his home. The unarmed 25-year-old black man was spotted by a father and son, both ex-police officers. They decided that Aubrey fit the description of a suspect responsible for several break-ins in the area. They grabbed their weapons, hopped in their pickup truck, and chased Ahmad down. They followed him, hit him with their truck, and when he tried to challenge them, they shot him to death on a public street in Georgia. For months—until a video came out—there were no arrests. (Let’s not forget Breonna Taylor.)

Ahmad Aubrey’s case echoes the death of Trayvon Martin, a young man was walking back to his house from a convenience store when he was confronted by a resident of his father’s apartment complex—a former “neighborhood watch” leader. A fight ensued. Trayvon Martin was shot dead. George Zimmerman, the security guard, never saw a day in jail for killing an unarmed man. (more…)

By |2020-06-14T22:58:23-04:00June 14th, 2020|Civil Rights|Comments Off on Newsletter – Well, This is Pretty Awful