Dear Black America:
We’ve been here before…sadly.
According to a series of tweets sent out by the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, at least 76 men and women of color were killed in police custody since the 1999 death of Amadou Diallo, a 23 year old immigrant from Guinea who was shot and killed by four New York City Police officers on February 4, 1999.
With the recent deaths of Michael Brown, the unarmed black teen shot dead by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer, and Eric Garner, who died after being put in a controversial choke-hold by a policeman in Staten Island, New York, the brutalities and injustices suffered by minorities at the hands of some of the very men sworn to protect and serve have been thrust into the national spotlight.
Now that the eyes of the world are on the Black community, we feel it is to our advantage to have an open dialogue about the way the world views us. We must, without a doubt, change the image of the Black male in the eyes of society.
We have an obligation and responsibility to alter the ways we are perceived by others: We are not thugs and hoodlums; we are not looking for handouts. We are a proud, hardworking, and honest people. We cannot allow the few bad apples and those who make the mainstream media to be the icons of our community. It is incumbent upon us to tell our own story and live up to the honor of our forefathers.
The argument has been raised that both Brown and Garner contributed to their demise by refusing to comply with officers’ orders. The truth of the matter – despite the unfairness – is that our young men do need to be taught to respond to officers in a way that reduces their “perceived threat” level. Their very lives depend on it! While many will certainly point out that this is a double standard, we must be smart about our actions and conversation, regardless of the officer’s race, until we can change the cycle and deal with the underlying issue which is sin and the efforts of Satan to continue to breed prejudice, mistrust and chaos. Yes, we deserve to be treated with respect and in a dignified manner—as any other race of people—but let’s live to seek justice and not die at the hand of injustice.
One of the loudest rallying cries that resulted from the most recent cases and similar tragedies was the hashtag Black Lives Matter (#BlackLivesMatter). Yes, Black Lives Matter; not just when it is at the hands of White police offers, but at the hands of others who look like us too. We must become just as angry and convicted when young Black men kill other young Black men. The amount of black-on-black crime is staggering and we are simply not doing enough to eradicate violence in our own communities.
To combat the problem, parents must first step up and do their jobs as parents. We need to be our children’s first role model and not have it filled by the latest celebrity or athlete. We must demonstrate the traits we want cultivated in our children’s lives. Little boys and girls need to be taught self-esteem and the value of family unity. They need to have faith in God and respect for not only themselves but for each other.
The “Stop Snitching” campaign, popularized in 2004, continues to wreak havoc in our communities. As Geoffrey Canada, a nationally recognized educator and anti-violence advocate, so eloquently said, “It’s like we’re saying to the criminals, ‘You can have our community. Just have our community. Do anything you want, and we will either deal with it ourselves, or we’ll simply ignore it.’” We must commit to changing this cancerous subculture. Our young people are dying and families are hurting.
Black communities also need churches willing to step up and embrace our young people. We need additional community centers and local government programs to help stem the tide of crime and murder that plagues our neighborhoods.
Continuing to blame our behaviors on a “system” designed to keep us in impoverished communities with inadequate access to educational/career opportunities and/or legal representation—though it has played a role—is no longer a valid excuse for not getting our homes in order.
As we march to protest against brutality, we must understand that marching and protesting alone will do very little to effect change in this nation where racism is so deeply embedded. Marching and protesting will do very little to change a system that has made the Prison Industrial Complex one of the largest growth industries in America. In fact, the prison system is the new system of slavery in America and the majority of those in prison are Black men. A 2012 article found that 1 in every 15 African American men and 1 in every 36 Hispanic men are incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 White men.
We must protest with a purpose. Protest at the polls by registering in large numbers and voting in every election—not just presidential races— for those who have our best interest at heart, regardless of party affiliation. Protest by staying in school and getting an education. Protest with our wallets, credit cards and debit cards by not spending except for bare necessities. We can make a difference!
Forty-three years ago, Marvin Gaye asked the question, “What’s Going On?” Back then, we had far less economically than we have today. Black Enterprise magazine analyzed a 2012 Nielsen study that concluded that African American buying power will reach $1 trillion by 2015; and yet only 2 cents of every dollar an African American spends in this country goes to black-owned businesses. We spend at a rate of growth that outpaces the remaining population by 30%. A dollar circulates in the Asian communities for one month; in Jewish communities for approximately 20 days; and 17 days in White communities. However, a dollar stays in the African American community for just six hours. In her book, “Our Black Year”, Maggie Anderson, co-founder of the Empowerment Project, highlights her family’s journey “buying Black”. She advises that “reinvesting in Black businesses is one of the best ways to address socioeconomic disparities”. With the global reach of the internet, it is now much easier to seek out and support Black-owned business. Consider making a monthly commitment to patronize African American establishments.
Today, we ask that question again, “What’s Going On?” It’s time for us to develop and change our own communities by taking ownership of our actions. It’s time for us to bring peace in our communities and stop killing ourselves. It’s time for us to build up and not tear down. It’s time for us to stop making others rich at our expense.
Dr. Derrick J. Hughes
Dr. C. E. Glover
Dr. Marcus Davidson