The past week has witnessed the President of the United States try to calm the nation in the aftermath of the Zimmerman acquittal and witnessed the scapegoating of the youth who have taken to the streets to express their outrage – and yes, rage – over what seems to be recurring themes in American society, the violation of young black men.
When you are the hunted, why would you sit and wait for the hunter to strike again? Yet, that’s what we have witnessed in America over the past 150 years (since the Emancipation Proclamation) — the continuing assault on the life and dignity of black men — with the complicity of the law. Each time it happens, and it happens every year somewhere in America, we express remorse, suggest there needs to be a dialogue on race. But only one community is doing the talking (black people), then the conversation subsides. Until it happens again. Each time, the violation gets more outrageous. This is not the first time we have witnessed assaults on black children.
It also occurred in the 1920s and 1980s. Nor is it the first time youth have reacted differently than the generations that preceded them expected them to react. So who’s to blame – those who want to wait for justice or those that don’t see justice coming? The time to cast blame is appropriate, but it shouldn’t be directed at the youth. Adults should take their share of blame.
The killing of Trayvon Martin and the release of his killer is being viewed through two different prisms – in the black community, much less a vastly skewed perspective in other communities. Some say it was aggression by a bloodthirsty man who knew the limits of the law and profiled. Others say it was a confrontation gone wrong. Others still say it was a bad law that incited the aggression. And others say it was race policy inspired by racism and fear.
Trayvon and his parents are not the only victims here. You have a whole nation of youth who see their lives being negotiated when they are the targets. Anti-intellectuals and agents looking to get their face in a camera or picture in the paper can’t see beyond their own narrow agendas to advance one that keeps youth out of harm’s way. Young people will get in their own way if you give them the chance. Hell, some adults will too. You can’t expect young folk (all of them) to show the same temperament as adults around issues that involve their lives.
And this is not a new conversation. It’s a 100-year conversation. Booker T. Washington told W.E.B. DuBois and them to accommodate racism until blacks earned whites’ trust. Roy Wilkins and Thurgood Marshall told Martlin Luther King and them to wait on the courts to change the laws. King told Stokely Carmichael and them to wait for moral suasion to change the conscience of the nation.
Each time, the younger generation said “To hell with that.” In each instance, blacks fought in ways that the elders thought were ill-advised and foolish – but the disruption facilitated progress on another level. Young generations reached a point in their lives where they would rather die on their feet than live on their knees.
Put yourself in their place. What does this society have to offer black youth today? A compromised education that so-called black leaders been “Mao-Maoing” for 30 years now…a fifty percent unemployment rate and an 70% under-employment rate where you pay them less when you finally do hire them – in temporary positions. Poor health and food deserts in their community. Railroad tracks and pollution stacks?? A young person doesn’t have a lot to look forward to – in their own communities – except free movement and the chance to escape poverty and deprivation when the opportunity presents itself. Or prison, when opportunity escapes before they do. Now you’re telling them they can be hunted in the streets – not just by police but – by citizens who can confront them, engage them, assault them, then kill them – and claim they feared for their lives so they “stood their ground.” That’s their reality – in the world we created.
Now you understand why some of the youth said, “F*** that. You wanna’ have a rally, I got a rally for you.” Smart leadership would have told them to stay home and honor Trayvon’s memory, and not to come out into the streets. It’s the adults who gave the youth the platform to act out, then you have agents who get in the paper, blame the youth and give the police an “A+” for withdrawing – calling it “restraint” (the same as they did in 1992) while the youth ran up and down Crenshaw, “wildin’” — assaulting people and destroying property.
Where were those person’s right to equal protection under the law? Wildin’ is not a new thing. But when they wilded north of the Santa Monica Freeway, the police shut it down immediately. Adults tolerate, in our community, what is not tolerated nowhere else in the city. But the youth don’t and that’s not their fault. They’re just showing the world the hypocrisy in the application of the law. And they should when their elders don’t have the sophistication to do so.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” and “An unjust law is the same as no law at all” are two of Dr. King’s most famous quotes. There can’t be justice for Trayvon, nor anyone else, when injustice is allowed to prevail. The youth see that and see their futures tied to an unjust world. It’s one thing to negotiate their dignity; it’s another thing to negotiate their lives. Young people’s lives are being negotiated now – by some people who are clueless – and they refuse to continue to be compromised by unjust law and complicit (non)leadership.
They wasn’t havin’ it. Don’t blame young people for being young – in standing up to protest unjust law. Just show them how to do it right, in a way that doesn’t negotiate their lives and put ’em in harm’s way. The adults should try walking a block in their shoes, to understand how they’re profiled.
Then, you just may understand their impatience with injustice.
Thursday, 25 July 2013