We Must Look Back in Order to Move Forward
by Dr. Wilmer J. Leon, III
“There is not a Black America and a White America …there's the United States of America.” – Senator Barack Obama 2004
“Americans must look back, examine and accept how its racist history has become a controlling element of its nationalist psyche.“
As Americans react to the Grand Jury decisions to “no-bill” in the Eric Garner and Michael Brown cases and struggle to come to grips with the most recent shooting death of 12 year-old Tamir E. Rice in Cleveland, Ohio, the shooting death of John Crawford, III in Dayton, Ohio, and the shooting death of Victor White III in New Iberia, Louisiana, it is obvious that the system is failing. There are different Americas for ethnically different Americans.
The reasons that African Americans, other people of color and now whites from differing backgrounds are protesting these killings are very complex. Among the major factors are 1) the misperception of African American men as inherently threatening leads too many white police officers to engage in the extrajudicial killing of these unarmed citizens, and 2) America’s criminal justice system fails to hold these officers accountable.
Senator Obama’s assertion in 2004 that there is “One America” was wrong. The Kerner Commission was correct in 1968 when it opined, “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal." We see this playing out in economic, health, education, mass incarceration statistics and the focus of this article: unarmed victims of police shootings.
Many are asking, “How has America come to this point?” I submit that this is not a new phenomenon. We are today where America has always been. These systemic failures must be examined within the context of a recent history that has become all too familiar.
“There are different Americas for ethnically different Americans.”
The solution to these extrajudicial killings is not a matter of body cameras: it is a matter of psychoanalysis. It is not a matter of more training: it is a matter of psychotherapy. In order for America to move forward and correct its ongoing racist trajectory Americans must look back, examine and accept how its racist history has become a controlling element of its nationalist psyche.
Since the first Africans set foot on the shores of Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619, the lives and humanity of African Americans have never been respected by America. For example, a Virginia Slave Code from 1669 read – “if any slave resist his master…and by the extremity of the correction should chance to die, that his death shall not be acompted felony, but the master…be acquit from molestation, since it cannot be presumed that prepense malice…should induce any man to destroy his won estate.” Today’s translation: white police officers can shoot unarmed African American citizens with impunity.
Ask yourself this: If Eric Garner or Michael Brown had been white, would the police officers that shot or choked them have felt so threatened? Would the police officer’s patterns of perception, logic and symbol formation have been different reacting to a white suspect vs. a black/Hispanic suspect – perhaps resulting in their lives being spared?
America has a history of extrajudicial murders. In The Negro Holocaust Robert Gibson wrote, “According to the Tuskegee Institute figures, between the years 1882 and 1951, 4,730 people were lynched in the United States: 3,437 Negro and 1,293 white. The largest number of lynchings occurred in 1892. Of the 230 persons lynched that year, 161 were Negroes and sixty-nine whites.” Even though not all of these victims died at the hands of the police, it was not the practice of local law officials to arrest the perpetrators and bring them to trial. The message to African Americans was loud and clear: “The American system of justice does not apply to you.” Neither Michael Brown nor Eric Garner was afforded the opportunity to face a jury of their peers for their alleged crimes. “Justice” was dispensed on the street by law enforcement officials.
“The so-called “War on Terror” has now turned inward.”
It is ironic that as people fill the streets to protest these latest murders, December 4,th was the 45th commemoration of the murder of Illinois Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton and his comrade Mark Clark in 1969. Hampton and Clark were summarily executed by Chicago police officers during a predawn raid of the apartment that they shared… while they slept. America has a long history of extra-judicial killings.
The so-called “War on Terror” has now turned inward. Domestic forces are being militarized and trained in combat style tactics by and with Israeli security forces. Too many police forces and officers view the African American citizens that they have sworn to “Protect and Serve” as enemy combatants to be “Feared and Eliminated.”
The most recent grand jury “no-bills” have sent the very clear message that the lives of African American men are worthless. This is eerily reminiscent of Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney’s Dred Scott decision in 1857. African Americans “were not intended to be included, under the word “citizens” in the constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States.”
Those facing the oppressive forces in this country and being disaffected by the outcomes of its injustice system must engage the very system that oppresses them. They must engage in the streets, courts, and legislatures in concerted efforts to bring about substantive change.
Too many people have placed unrealistic expectations on the Obama Administration. There is no way that one man or one administration can undo 395 years of oppression and racial terrorism. With that being said, President Obama has failed to use his bully pulpit to forcefully articulate and advocate for the interests of the constituents that sent him to the White House.
As Americans react to the Grand Jury decisions to “no-bill” in the Eric Garner and Michael Brown cases they must come to realize that we have to look back in order to move forward. Based on this racist history, America never was America to me.
“Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free…
(America never was America to me.)…
(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak…”
- Langston Hughes “Let America Be America Again”
Dr. Wilmer Leon is a political scientist and host of the call-in talk radio program “Inside the Issues with Wilmer Leon” on Sirius/XM channel 126. Go to www.wilmerleon.com or Dr. Leon’s Prescription @ Facebook.com or www.twitter.com/drwleon.
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