From frontpage of Daily News when Glover was killed.
Nine months after I arrived in New York City in the summer of 1972 to do my medical residency training, a horrific murder took place in Queens, a sadistic act of violence that has remained forever etched in my memory, haunting, difficult to process and incomprehensible at the time for this newly arrived immigrant from Ethiopia.
It was the murder of Clifford Glover by a New York Police Department (NYPD) police officer, Thomas Shea, who is reported to have yelled “you Black son of bitches” as he shot him in the back. Clifford Glover you see, was a 10 year Black child, a 4th grader weighing 90 lbs. His killer walked free.
Little did I know then that I was to be constantly assaulted by a barrage of reports of young unarmed Black men and boys shot by NYPD police with numbing regularity. As common as these killings were, there were some crimes that stood out for their depraved cruelty.
Take the case of Amadou Diallo a 23-year-old immigrant from Guinea who was gunned down in front of his Bronx apartment building by four NYPD officers who fired 41 shots, gangland style. He was unarmed. The Policemen’s defense? They mistook him for a rape suspect from a year earlier. They were, as usual acquitted. So what if a life is snuffed out of a young Black man with hopes and dreams like all other young men his age.
Sean Bell woke up on November 25, 2006 looking forward to his wedding later that morning when NYPD detectives fired 60 shots killing him and severely wounding two of his friends Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman.
The so-called justice system found the killers not guilty.
After each police shooting of unarmed Black men there would be professed outrage, demonstrations, and proforma calls for reform in the criminal justice system. Some cosmetic changes would be made to calm the troubled waters in the city until the next shooting ignites the same reaction in the community with similar response by the political elite. The cycle would repeat itself.
The existential threat to Black American men and boys does not come from the police alone. There is a White supremacist underbelly of a racist society that makes its presence known periodically by committing acts of lynching in the most horrendous forms of brutality. Who can forget the 1986 killing of Michael Griffith, a 23 year old Black man, chased by a baseball bat-wielding White mob in Howard Beach, Queens? He was running away from the racist mob to save his life when he ended up on a highway and was hit by a car and killed.
The same year a 35 year old Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) worker Willie Turks was dragged out of his car in Brooklyn and brutally beaten to death by a White lynch mob.
Sixteen year old Yusef Hawkins was shot dead in 1998 by a mob in a White neighborhood of Brooklyn.
In one of the most horrific cases, 1,500 miles away from New York, James Byrd, a 49 year old Black man in Jasper, Texas, was beaten, urinated and defecated on by three White supremacists who then chained him around the ankles to their pickup truck and dragged him for three miles severing his arm and his head half way along the road. It was a gruesome murder widely reported in 1999.
From Clifford Glover, 10, to 12 year old Tamir Rice 41 years later, from Yusef Hawkins 16, in 1998 to 17-year-old Treyvon Martin in 2012, it is as if no Black child would be allowed to grow to manhood.
If, against all odds they make it, they would be stopped by the police for driving, walking or jogging while Black or simply for being alive while Black.
These unwarranted stops very often escalate to charges of resisting arrest should they dare ask why they were stopped. Use of deadly force then follows these encounters with police costing the lives of countless young Black men. Black women were not exempted from use of deadly force by police either, but forced sterilization was a more effective tool White supremacist authorities used.
For example in the South what became known as “Mississippi appendectomies,” unnecessary procedures routinely performed and hysterectomies in the North to control the population.
It is a slow genocide committed across the centuries of a people that refuses to be exterminated.
Even as the nationwide demonstrations continue to protest George Floyd’s brutal May 25 murder by Officer Derek Chauvin of the Minneapolis Police Department and his colleagues, the police in Atlanta last week Friday executed Rayshard Brooks, shooting him in the back while fleeing for his life in full view of the nation and the world. Revealing their depraved sadism, the officer that shot him, Garrett Rolfe, kicked him as he lay dying while his colleague Devin Brosnan stood on his shoulder.
At the same time comes a report of two Black men in adjacent counties in Southern California found hanging from a tree, a reminder to all of us that we have moved the needle for equality very little since Billy Holiday’s Strange Fruit, a powerful anti-lynching musical protest 80 years ago.
From the days of slavery through Jim Crow and lynching that is still with us, racist violence has had a devastating effect on the Black family and community at large. War on crime, war on drugs, calls for “law and order” are policies that are designed to fall heavily on Black and Brown criminalized communities. These laws give the police carte blanche to do whatever damn well they please.
It took years of protests to reduce the practice of ‘’stop and frisk” used by NYPD profiling innocent Black and Brown New Yorkers. Surveys at the time showed that the majority of White New Yorkers favored this unconstitutional racist targeting.
Those who are lucky enough to escape police shooting end up in jail for the flimsiest of reasons, leading to mass incarceration of Black men and women thus destroying families and communities.
The Killings of innocent men and women and complaints of harassment of residents in minority communities are “investigated” internally by the very agency responsible for the crimes against them. The police actions invariably are found to be justifiable and no one would be held accountable, and the charade continues.
Repeated calls to reform police procedures are heard and solutions in the form of improving de-escalation and sensitivity training are offered, meaningless gestures which do not address the elephant in the room-systemic racism.
A study conducted at Rutgers University, the University of Michigan, and Washington University concluded that one in a thousand young Black men and boys die of Police shooting and that it was the sixth leading cause of death among Black young men who are 2.5 times likely to die at the hands of Police compared to their White counterparts.
What is more alarming is the finding by Professor David Williams, Chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Services at Harvard.
In an article published in 2018 in the world’s leading medical journal, the Lancet, Dr. Williams and his colleagues found a lasting impact in mental health not only on the immediate family of the shooting victim but of the entire community lasting up to three months. One can only imagine the chronic stresses such communities suffer as a result of repetitive shootings.
Another study by Boston University School of Public heath and University of Pennsylvania concluded “The Use of deadly force by police against unarmed Black Americans carries with it the weight of historical injustice in current disparities in the use of state violence against Americans.”
In a powerful op-ed article in the LA Times, the basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, referring to the current protests wrote “Black protesters represent a community pushed to the edge-not because they want bars and nail salons open, but because they want to live-to breathe.”
The rite of passage of every Black child is having to go through the obligatory “Talk” or conversation parents must have with their children on how to behave when stopped by police.
They are instructed to be cooperative, be polite and respectful in order to get back home alive.
It is a community that feels constantly under siege, the increasingly militarized police are seen as an occupation army keeping the “natives” under control.
The Spanish philosopher George Santayana is credited with the saying ‘’those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
That may well be true except in the case of Black people in America the past is the present. It is a continuous 400-years history of enslavement, discrimination and brutality by a White supremacist system of government whose racist ideology is woven into the social, political and economic fabric of the nation through a system of laws that denied equal rights and opportunities.
The Founding Fathers that are held up on a pedestal were nothing but enslavers of Africans, exploiters of free labor who wrote the laws to ensure their privileged economic status. The humanity of a Black person was traded away at the 1787 Constitutional Convention with the infamous three-fifths compromise.
The plantations of yesteryear are now the corporations. Just as slave patrols terrorized escaped enslaved Africans, so did modern policemen serve as strike breakers in the 19th and early 20th Century for the emerging capitalist enterprises. Their role now is to control of what the ruling class in corporate America considers “dangerous classes” of today–African Americans, immigrants and the poor.
The current demand by protestors to Defund Police comes out of the recognition that the only way real change can occur is by totally dismantling the current racist police structure. It has never been a case of a few bad apples as they would have us believe. True and real public safety can only be ensured by establishing a force by and for the community to which that force would be answerable.
Imagine what the current NYPD $11 billion budget would do for distressed communities of color in New York City. Defunding therefore should not be negotiable during these round of protests.
Nothing short of stopping the feeding of the racist beast in the law enforcement infrastructure will stop the police crimes against humanity across the land.
That solution is only the beginning, barely scratching the surface of the problem, a mere tinkering around the edges. The crux of the matter is the 200 years of uncompensated slave labor followed by 100 years of Jim Crow that denied basic liberties, opportunities and voting rights which has left the Black community lagging behind in every aspect of human development index.
The legacy of slavery manifests itself in the inherited wealth of descendants of slave owners conferring on them White privilege and entitlement.
The legacy of enslavement and racism is also seen in the disparities in income, access to health care and funding in education. Jonathan Kozol’s “Savage Inequalities” is a damning indictment of the current education system in poor neighborhoods in New York City.
It is time that we face the issue of reparations head on for the centuries of exploitation and dehumanization of people of color and begin to address the redress. Recognizing the need for reparation is the first step.
Details can be worked out but in the meantime a massive domestic Marshall Plan for the poor and ethnic minority communities is something that needs to be done most expeditiously.
Like the shot that was heard around the world at the Battle of Concord signaling the beginning of the American Revolution, so does George Floyd’s anguished plea signal the Second American Revolution–the Black Liberation shaking off the shackles of racism not only in America but all over the world. The genie is out of the bottle. There is no turning back.
A Luta Continua, Vitoria e certa!
Mohammed A. Nurhussein, MD, is a retired physician and professor of medicine.