Columnist Dr. Leon.
On June 4, the Rev. Al Sharpton said, “George Floyd should not be among the deceased. He did not die of common health conditions. He died of a common American criminal justice malfunction.”
I understand Rev. Sharpton’s point, but to cast this lynching in the context of a “malfunction” is to lose site of the much broader historical context in which African’s in America and later African Americans have existed since 1619. I am not inferring that it was Rev. Sharpton’s intent, but to cast this horror in the context of a “malfunction”, is to give America a pass. We can no longer afford to do that.
The total disregard for George Floyd as a human being, coupled with a hatred for the Black Community that Officer Derek Chauvin took an oath to protect and serve, led to the lynching on May 25.
Chauvin was sending a message to the community by holding his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck in broad daylight. “Black people, know your place, understand your place and stay in your place”. Even the knowledge that he was being videotaped didn’t deter Chauvin.
His inhumanity towards Mr. Floyd as his life was slowly choked out of his handcuffed body emanates from America’s historic inhumanity towards people of color since Tristan de Luna established the short-lived settlement at Pensacola Bay in 1559.
This hatred is woven into the very fabric of America. It is in the founding documents of this country. It’s evident in Supreme Court decisions and the blowback from America’s dominant culture to any modicum of success achieved by African Americans (The Red Summer of 1919 or Tulsa 1921).
A clear and indisputable pattern is obvious. Within this historic context, this atrocity captured on video, this act of domestic terrorism was America in action. The power of the State as carried out through Officer Chauvin was in full effect. This was no malfunction…it was business as usual.
Our ancestors were brought to these shores for only one purpose; free labor. Our task was to perform all the requisite dirty work to build an economy and empire for Europe. The so-called “christians” who swore in the Mayflower Compact of 1620 that they undertook, “…for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern Parts of Virginia…” could not reconcile their inhumane treatment of their African captives with their “christianity”.
To absolve themselves of the dilemma posed by the true Christian ethic that God created man in his own image, the Europeans slowly dehumanized their captives and codified this in law and constitution.
Examine the Laws of Virginia:
Act XII 1662, “children got by Englishmen upon a Negro woman, is the child slave or free?” The status of the child shall be determined by the status of the mother.
Act II 1667 addresses, “What happens to the status of a baptized slave?” Answer: “the conferring of baptism doth not alter the condition of person as to his bondage…”
Act I 1669, a master cannot be charged with murder for the “casual killing of slaves” since no one in their right mind would destroy their own property.
By 1669, the enslaved were no longer persons, they were no longer human; they were property.
The Constitution gave us the Three Fifths Compromise, the Fugitive Slave Provision (the constitutional validation for slave patrols, the early form of American policing) and allowed for the importation of enslaved Africans for twenty years, until January 1, 1808.
In 1857 the Supreme Court via Chief Justice Taney gave us the Dred Scott decision, validating the belief that all blacks — enslaved as well as free — were not and could never become citizens of the United States. The framers of the Constitution, he wrote, believed that blacks “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect…”
These are a few examples of what is meant by structural or “institutional racism”. Stripping our ancestors of their humanity, relegating them to the position of property or things and codifying it in the founding documents and court decisions of this country. This is not a malfunction; this is the machine operating as designed!
Yes, there has been legislation and court decisions that have amended and/or eliminated many of these laws from the books. The Brown decision, the 64’ Civil Rights Act, the 65’ Voting Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act were all great legal and legislative advancements. This progress has lulled us to sleep with a false sense of accomplishment and optimism.
The reality remains that legislation alone does not do anything to disabuse those in power and those they represent of the controlling mindset of this country, of the notion that African Americans are less than human.
For example…banning the chokehold is a great idea, but that same banned chokehold is what killed Eric Garner.
Until we get to the real crux of the issue, the controlling and racist mindset of an entire criminal justice system that turns a blind eye to choking, shooting unarmed suspects and not holding officers accountable when they use excessively violent tactics, nothing substantive will change.
Jury verdicts validating police abuse and police departments staging sickouts to protest fellow officers being charged with crimes is evidence of the machine making corrections to protect itself.
Are the ongoing protests a moment or a movement? The jury is still out. The verdict will be determined by the blowback that comes from this moment and how those who are protesting and advocating for change respond to it. The response to judicial and legislative advancements is always substantive blowback.
The Supreme Court has dismantled the Voting Rights Act and conservative groups have escalated voter suppression tactics such as The Crosscheck Program. The Supreme Court has made it more difficult to prove discrimination under the Civil Rights Act. The election of Donald Trump was blowback to the election of Barak Obama as was Sen. McConnell’s not allowing the nomination of Merrick Garland to go forward.
The American ethos of exceptionalism and the illusion of white supremacy are under attack. The battle is playing out right before our eyes on both the foreign and domestic fronts.
You cannot separate the racist aggression being carried out against people of color in the streets of the US by the State (aka the police) and the racist aggression being carried out by the US against Venezuela, Bolivia, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Yemen, Libya and Syria (just to name a few).
Dr. King warned us about the three major evils: “poverty, global racial oppression and militarism”… King told us, “And we must face the hard fact that many Americans would like to have a nation which is a democracy for white Americans but simultaneously a dictatorship over black Americans.”
Too many white Americans are insecure and losing their footing in the shifting sands of the quest for ethnic equality in America. How those of good conscience and morality respond to the violent blowback will determine if and how the country can move from this moment of unrest and uncertainty to a movement of peace and equality.
I am certain that we will never get there until Congress and others stop wading in the safety of the shallow waters of chokeholds and panels and begin to swim into the deep waters of the real issue… the racist ethos of America.
Dr. Wilmer Leon is the Producer/ Host of the nationally broadcast call-in talk radio program “Inside the Issues with Leon,” on SiriusXM Satellite radio channel 126. Go to www.wilmerleon.com or email:
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