Somehow, America just can’t seems to overcome its racial problems. The shooting of an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown by a white police officer last week in Ferguson, Missouri is a tragic example of this. This tragedy triggered another riot in Ferguson and clashes with the police that are reminiscent of the 60s civil rights struggle in the South where police use water hoses and police dogs to control black protesters.
The racial problem in America has a long history that dates back to the time of slavery. In a 1923, the Jamaican born, Pan Africanist, Marcus Mosiah Garvey during his self-defense at his trial for mail fraud in the US court, made a prediction about race to the court. This is what he said when he asked the rhetorical question about race:
What are you going to do with this question of race. You may sit quietly by, but it is going to be serious later on and that is why the Universal Negro Improvement Association is endeavoring to assist you in solving the Negro problem by helping the Negro to become enterprising, independent politically, and by having a country of his own. If you follow me down the ages you will see within 100 years you are going to have a terrible race problem in America, when you will have increased and the country will become over-populated. It will be a fight for existence between two opposite races. The weak will have to go down in defeat before the strong. In the riots of Washington, East St. Louis, Chicago, Tulsa, study the race question and you will find that some serious thinking must be done now to solve this problem; otherwise our children will be confronted with it.A hundred years from the time Garvey made these comments will come in 2023 – just nine years away – and America still has a serious race problem. In his prediction Garvey referenced riots that occurred in four areas of the US. Since then the pattern of riots triggered by racial problems, continue to be blight on American society.
Although the racism perpetrated by social institutions has declined, the criminal-justice system seems to resist changes to ameliorating the disparate treatment of blacks. Black people are given harsher sentences compared to whites who commit the same crimes and law enforcement profiles them as suspects and criminals.
Within the past two months, the nation has been subjected to four disturbing incidents involving law enforcement officers (and a wannabe police) using deadly force or excessive force on blacks. These four incidents sparked the usual frenzy of media coverage and the typical pattern of discussion on racism – denial and accusations. The first incident occurred on February 26, 2012 and involved the murder of seventeen year old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida by the wannabe cop George Zimmerman. Before pursuing Martin and fatally shooting him, Zimmerman made some racial stereotypical comments about the teenager. Police questioned Zimmerman the night of the murder but he was not arrested until several weeks later after the incident started to get national coverage in the media. Zimmerman was acquitted based on Florida's "Stand your ground law.”
The second incident, which was caught on videotape, showed a white California Highway Patrol officer straddling a woman and pummeling her with punches to her face. This incident occurred July 1, 2014 on the shoulder of a busy highway in Los Angeles. The victim was Marlene Pinnock an unarmed fifty one year old black woman. Her merciless beating was not what you would expect a man to do to a woman. Apparently, it made no difference to the patrol officer that this was an unarmed woman. For a law enforcement officer to do deliver the kind of beating shown on the videotape to a woman raises several disturbing questions about the attitude of police officers towards black people.
The third incident occurred in New York also in July 21, 2014 when Eric Garner an unarmed black man was apprehended by several police officers. During a police confrontation with garner, a police officer applied a choke hold to him and with the help of other officers brought him to the ground. The police officers continued to use unnecessary force to restrain him. Garner an asthmatic, was in distress and moments later he was dead.
The fourth incident, the Michael Brown incident occurred just last week in Ferguson, Missouri. The teenager was fatally shot as he tried to run away after an altercation with a police officer. Shot in the back, Brown held up both hands to show that he was unarmed. However, the police officer allegedly fired several more shots into Brown’s body killing him on the spot.
Because these incidents involve black people and occurred in different regions of the country, the conclusion is drawn that law enforcement treatment of black people is a national problem. It is a problem that requires law enforcement to evaluate their training program and possible implement training on the use of deadly force and their attitude towards black people – especially young blacks.
A number of events have occurred in the past five decades that should have given America an opportunity to come to some reconciliation with its racial problem. Dr. Martin Luther King, Civil Rights struggle followed by his “I have a dream speech” is one of those events. Rodney King’s (he was brutally beaten by cops in 1992) famous comments, “Can’t we all get along” was another moment that gave America an opportunity to look into its soul. Then there was the 9/11 tragedy that was fueled by the hatred of extreme Muslims linked to al Qaeda. This tragic act of terrorism should have made America look at their own internal hatred and it should have helped unite all Americans. America cannot afford to condemn hatred from foreigners and at the same time continue to practice racial hatred.
As with any type of negative social behavior, there is always a catalyst that drives the behavior or makes people feel they can continue their undesirable behavior. So what is the catalyst that is influencing the increased use of deadly and brutal force by the police against black people? My guess is that it is the climate of hatred that started when President Obama became the first black president.
Some people will disagree that the treatment of President Obama has nothing to do with his race and more to do with his politics. That is simply not true though, because the manner in which the president has been treated is clearly unprecedented. During the president’s first term going on into his second term, there has been a relentless effort to destroy his presidency. This effort is manifested in the blatant disrespect; the conspiracy theories that swirl around him; the spurious GOP led congressional hearings dubbed as scandals - IRS, Fast and Furious, Benghazi, etc.; the propaganda to discredit his policies; talks of impeaching the president; the GOP shutting down of the government; Speaker Boehner’s suing the president; and the personal attacks that sometimes involved with racial innuendos. All these are things that no previous presidents have been subjected to.
If the president of America is being treated in the manner described in the previous paragraph, it is not hard to understand why hatred is again on the rise in America. In this climate of hatred, police officers see it as open season on black people. This climate of hatred is fueled by the GOP members who treat the president as if he is a pariah. It is not surprising then that some world leaders will take advantage of this situation. This is exactly what President Putin is doing in his effort to bring back Crimea and the Ukraine under Russian control. Putin senses that America is divided and that President Obama gets no support on domestic and foreign policy issues. He knows that with President Obama having a weak hand, he can take advantage of doing whatever he wants to do.
Marcus Garvey was also spot-on in another prediction he made that is currently being played out in the manner in which President Obama is treated by the GOP. In 1920, Garvey made comments that white people would resent black politicians making laws to govern the white man. This is what Garvey said:
A terrible mistake was made between 40 and 50 years ago when black men were elected to legislative assemblies all over the country, especially in the southern states and even at the national capital when representatives of this race occupied seats in Congress. The mistake was made as far as the white people were concerned. There was a state of dis-organization in the nation, and in that state certain things happened to mere chance. In the chance, dozens of black men became Senators and Congressmen. This opened up to the eyes of the white nation the possibility of the black man governing the white man in these United States of America – the possibility of the black man making laws to govern the white man? This possibility drove them almost to madness, in suddenly rejecting the spirit of the Constitution and the declaration of Lincoln that "all men are created equal," hence the determination was arrived at, that never again would it be possible for the race of slaves to govern the race of masters within these United States of America.Marcus Garvey not only predicted America’s racial problem, he provided insights that America should have paid attention to. Unfortunately, people like Marcus Garvey are often discredited and their message goes unheeded. Racial problems are rooted in the deep recesses of the mind and they result from what is called the ideology of racism. This is why racism is so persistent and the only way to come to terms with it is through some revolutionary process like a spiritual awakening.
Mel Shim is the author of Whom God Has Blessed, Let No Man Curse (Infinity Press, 2013) and A New Perspective on Race-related Problems in Corporate American Companies (Outlook Press, 2013). http://www.jermelshim.com