Suddenly, the television flashes a video of a young Black man, Alton Sterling, shot by a white police officer in Baton Rouge, La., Monday. Then two days later in Falcon Heights, Minn., Philando Castile was pulled over for a broken taillight while driving with his girlfriend, Diamond Lavish Reynolds, with her 4-year-old daughter in the backseat.
It is the videos of these two young men being killed that is so devastating. Sterling, a young man who sold videos in front of a store, is confronted by police and, like the Eric Garner (selling loose cigarettes) killing in New York, the incident immediately became fatal.
The officers are seen subduing Sterling (by sitting on his chest) as one officer pulls out his gun, pointed a few inches from his chest and shoots. He says, “I felt my life was being threatened.”
In Minnesota, Castile was shot numerous times, never being allowed to get out of his car. How could a trained police officer shoot into a car with a baby girl and mother?
The only difference between Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” and these deaths are these innocent young Black men, along with Tamir Rice (12 years old), Walter Scott, Freddie Gray and many others, not hanging from the poplar trees. No, these Black bodies lay lifelessly on the ground, drenched in blood, with bullet holes, left to be mourned by their families and friends and for all of America to witness.
Immediately after these tragic deaths the now all-too-familiar formal news conferences were called, with the two cities’ mayors and police chiefs and the states’ governors promising a complete and thorough investigation and pleas for the cities to remain calm and not to rush to judgment.
As Americans were still attempting to digest these latest two horrific killings (and deal with their hurt and anger) many took to the streets in peaceful demonstrations Thursday night in New York, Newark, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington and Dallas.
However, in downtown Dallas as the demonstration was ending, shots rang out. Before the shooter, 25- year-old Micah Xavier Johnson, was eventually killed by police, he was able to kill five police officers and wound seven.
It was reported that Johnson was in the U.S. Army Reserve for six years and spent time stationed in Afghanistan. It was noted that “he wanted to kill white police officers.” News reports stated he said, “I wanted to kill white people, especially white cops.”
It seems he was a lone wolf in this ambush attack, without any affiliation with any type of organized group, so noted news reports. It isn’t surprising that a young Black man struck out and committed himself to killing white police officers.
In “Black Rage” (Basic Books, 1968), psychiatrists Dr. William H. Grier and Dr. Price M. Cobbs “bring a unique understanding of the anger raging in the Black man’s breast and the long history of white racism that put it there.”
It was stated that not since the tragic 9/11 terrorist attack have so many law enforcement officers been killed in a single incident. These five police officers died courageously in the line of duty. They didn’t deserve to be killed, just as both Sterling and Castile were innocent victims who didn’t deserve to to be killed.
James Baldwin once stated, “What you don’t face eventually faces you.” This gunman’s act could be that moment when government acknowledges that business shouldn’t go on as usual and serious steps must be taken to stop police brutality.
There comes a crucial point when Blacks have to ask these questions: How many more marches do we have to march? How many more acts of violence do we have to protest? How many more times will Black parents have to bury their sons?
How many more generations of Black mothers will have to warn their sons that any involvement with the police may result in the forfeiture of their lives (“Black Rage”)?
The concept of white supremacy began when the first Africans stepped off the slaves ships. Variations of that same mental and physical abuse are being exerted on today’s African-Americans. These times are “Trying Times,” the title of a Roberta Flack single (1968), and we have yet to get past them.
In 1984, police officers killed the elderly Eleanor Bumpurs. The officer’s report stated she refused to drop a knife and was shot twice with a 12-gauge shot gun. The killing of Amadou Diallo (23 years old) occurred in 1999, when he was shot by four plain-clothed New York City police officers. They fired a total of 41 shots.
The police officers who have committed these dreadful killings over the years have been acquitted of all charges. Not surprising in this country of white supremacy, where since slavery, whites have rarely been prosecuted for killing Blacks.
During slavery Blacks were property, so no offense there. Through segregation and the Ku Klux Klan it was overt racism at its worst. Now, it is covert racism and still at its worst.
The reason Black lives matter is that for so long they only seemed to matter to Black folks, as the government sought to discredit or destroy them. We say Black lives matter, but are the young Black men engaged in gang-banging and killing each other in the streets (often their stray bullets kill innocent victims) really comprehending this concept.
They have to understand their lives matter, too. Their violence against each other only diminishes their worth, while compounding the overall problem.
The anguish, pain and rage of Black folks have followed us like a dreaded shadow. Officials throughout the U.S. need to represent the present and not cling to the country’s past sins.
For as Curtis Mayfield sang, “If there is a hell below/we’re all gonna go, gonna go.”