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Child Watch: How to Keep our Black Boys Alive

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By Marian Wright Edelman
NNPA Columnist

 

The recent spotlight on systematic racial profiling and police brutality against Black boys and men has exposed a painful truth long known in the Black community: just about every Black youth and man seems to have a story about being stopped by the police, and all live daily with the understanding it can happen to any of them at any time.

Terrell Strayhorn is Director of the Center for Higher Education Enterprise at The Ohio State University and a Professor of Higher Education in the Department of Educational Studies in the College of Education and Human Ecology.

But none of these credentials mattered when Strayhorn was pulled over by a White police officer in June.

“… And I watched an officer who does not know me come up to my window and say, ‘Mister, I need to see your license and registration.’ And I got ready to reach for it, and he reached for his gun – and I said, ‘Oh, my God. I know how this ends…He’d just bought a beautiful new car. “So I’m driving my really nice car because that’s what you can do in this country, right? You can work hard and you can make good money, and then you can use your money to buy a car…So I’m in my car, in my good hard-earned money car, and then comes a blue light in my rearview mirror.”

“I put my hands back and I said, ‘Do I have permission to do what you just asked me to do?’ And the cop said, ‘Yes, you can now move.’” Only then did Strayhorn go ahead and pull out his registration and license, along with his university identification card, though the officer didn’t seem to care.

“He said, ‘Do you know why I stopped you?’  I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Because you don’t look old enough to drive this car.’ It sounded like a compliment, but then I had to remind him – in my head, not out loud – that in this country actually, [when] you get a driver’s license, you’re free to drive any car.”

Recounting the story for the Children’s Defense Fund training for college-age students preparing to teach at CDF Freedom Schools, Strayhorn said: “When you are mistreated, deemed guilty before you are innocent, and oppressed by that form of unbridled, misused power and authority, it is infuriating. It is offensive. It is enraging…The rage just started in my pinky toe and it climbed all up my body. But, thank God, I had what I’m going to say is the number-one thing: if you’re going to teach [our children] anything—teach them literacy, teach them numeracy, teach them vocabulary, teach them history, teach them political science, but listen – teach them how to control their rage.”

He continued, “…We’ve got to remember that while we’re teaching them how to control their rage, giving them the language to have that conversation, they need words for that encounter with the police officer, that encounter with the neighbor. The reason why people fight is because words are not present for them to have the conversation. Give them the literacy tools so they can have the conversation. Teach them rage is natural; rage against this thing; rage against inequality—but control it in the face of authority that can take your life, because the end of the thing is we want them to live.”

Self-control over rage at the right moment might help save a Black boy’s life, though even that has certainly never been a guarantee. But no matter what, the critical next step still has to be channeling rage at deeply embedded structural racism and blatant injustice into “impassioned enthusiasm” for the larger fight. That larger fight can and must start with all of us by getting ourselves organized and providing our children positive alternatives to the miseducation in so many schools and the dangers on the street from law enforcement agents.

Strayhorn concluded, this all-hands-on-deck call to rage against injustice and fight for freedom is for everyone: “We’ve got to pursue freedom and justice not just for Black people, but pursue freedom and justice for Latino folks, pursue freedom and justice for Native American people, pursue freedom and justice for gay people, for LGBT, for poor people, for rich people, for tall people, for short people, for people who don’t have anything at all, for first-generation people, for welfare mothers, for everybody. Freedom and justice for all.”

That’s the message every child of every color who is “different” must internalize to break the vicious cycle of deeply embedded cultural and structural racism that pervades so many American institutions including those too prevalent in the criminal justice system that too often takes rather than protects lives.

 

Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.

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Activism

Greater Justice is Coming: Taking on Abusive and Deadly Policing with New DOJ Leadership

And I am not just talking about justice as an idea. I am talking about a Department of Justice that is willing to take on abusive policing and law enforcement agencies that are corrupted by racism.

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Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta

Thanks to the voters who elected President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, we now have a Department of Justice that actually cares about justice.

And I am not just talking about justice as an idea. I am talking about a Department of Justice that is willing to take on abusive policing and law enforcement agencies that are corrupted by racism.

In his first month on the job, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland reversed a Trump-era policy that made it harder for the Justice Department to investigate police departments and hold them accountable for violating people’s civil rights.

And he was just getting started. In the past few weeks, the Justice Department has announced that it is starting an investigation of the police departments in Minneapolis—where George Floyd was murdered by former officer Derek Chauvin while other officers watched. The Minnesota AFL-CIO has called the city’s police union a white supremacist-led organization.

The Justice Department has also launched an investigation of policing practices in Louisville, where Breonna Taylor was shot to death in her own home.

These investigations will look at more than those individual killings. This kind of “patterns and practices” investigation looks at the big picture to determine whether and how a law enforcement agency is violating people’s civil rights. They are a way to evaluate—and do something about—the impact that systemic racism has in a police department and the communities it is supposed to serve.

“Patterns and practices” investigations can lead to consent decrees — agreements that require police departments to change the way they operate, with oversight from the Justice Department to make sure change actually happens.

In the past, Justice Department investigations and consent decrees have been important tools for getting violent police behavior under control and changing abusive cultures in out-of-control departments.

When the Trump Administration shut down this kind of investigation, it sent a signal to police departments that the Justice Department would look the other way rather than hold them responsible for misconduct. Of course, Trump himself repeatedly made it clear that he was not opposed to violent policing. In fact, he encouraged it.

Biden has spoken personally about the importance of ending police violence and reimagining public safety. He has called on Congress to pass the imperfect but important George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

Another good sign was the announcement that the FBI is doing a civil rights investigation of the killing of Andrew Brown, Jr., who was shot in the back of the head by police in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.

All of these are important steps in protecting Americans, especially Black Americans, from abusive policing.

Biden has also spoken out against Republicans’ racist efforts to pass new voting restrictions in states all over the country. Biden has called those efforts “sick” and we can count on his Justice Department to do what they can to challenge voter suppression—even though right-wing justices on the U.S. Supreme Court have greatly weakened the tools that the Voting Rights Act gave the department to prevent Black voters from having their rights denied.

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has just written the Arizona Senate president to raise concerns that a bogus “audit” of ballots from last year’s presidential election that is being conducted by private contractors from the so-called “Stop the Steal” movement could be violating the Voting Rights Act.

There are more signs that we can expect changes at the Justice Department. Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, who was recently confirmed by the U.S. Senate, started her career as a civil rights attorney by winning freedom for dozens of mostly Black people wrongly jailed in a small Texas town.   And the Senate should soon confirm Kristen Clarke to head the civil rights division, where she started her legal career investigating police conduct, hate crimes, and human trafficking.

Together with Biden and Garland, Gupta and Clarke will save lives, defend civil rights, and give millions of Americans hope that greater justice is coming.

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Bay Area

Asian/Black Relations Can Get Better Together During Heritage Month

Heritage months are ways to benchmark our progress and see what urgently needs to be done now. 

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Tim Mossholder/Unsplash

President Joe Biden has given May a new name. It’s no longer Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, as proclaimed by Obama in 2009.  And it’s definitely not Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, as proclaimed by Jimmy Carter in 1978. It’s Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Month, as proclaimed by Biden on the last day of April this year. 

That’s our new umbrella. A big one, incorporating everyone. From the East Bay’s Rocky Johnson, the father of Dwayne the Rock, an African American/Samoan American. To Vallejo’s Gabriella Sarmiento Wilson, a/k/a H.E.R., the African American Filipino of Grammy- Oscar-winning- songs fame.

Despite how huge the umbrella is incorporating more than 23 million people from more than 20 countries of origin, we are all American. And we’re the fastest-growing group in the nation, set to double in size, overtake the Latinx population and, with 46 million people, become the largest ethnic group in America by 2060. 

And so we’ve come to expect people seeking to divide us up. During a Zoom conference of attorneys general last week, a member of the audience had a question. “There seems to be an emphasis on attributing anti-Asian violence to white people,” said a white male to the panel. “And I’m just wondering if it is healthy to do that, or an effort to do that…when in some incidents, the attacks were committed by non-white people.”

Essentially, the man was saying, “Don’t blame white people,” implying that Blacks have often been perps in some high profile crimes against Asians. 

But it seemed more like a question to drive a wedge to break up our solidarity.

Fortunately, civil rights activists John Yang knew exactly how to answer that one. 

“Yes, there have been attacks on Asian Americans by people that are not white, no question about that,” he said. “But I would ask everyone to be really, really careful about what the actual statistics are, because the statistics show that the predominant number of people attacking Asians are Caucasian.” Then he referred to some high-profile cases in the Bay Area where Blacks attacked elderly Asians, once again pointing out it was the exception, not the norm.

It was the right response to avoid creating divisiveness and to let everyone know that the only way to end racism is to fight it together.

But he also said something that rang true to most Asian Americans. 

“Let’s be clear, there (are) elements of anti-Blackness in the Asian American community, that we do need to unlearn as well,” he said. Then he made it personal. “And that’s something that I’m going to call out on myself, and in our community, and we would ask everyone to do the same thing as we’re all learning together.”

It was a rare candid public moment that unveiled a sense of friction between Asian and Black communities that has existed since the days I wrote op-ed pieces in the 1990s in the Tribune. 

Heritage months are ways to benchmark our progress and see what urgently needs to be done now. 

Like the speaker said, a lot of it involves calling out where we have fallen short of the ideal.

That’s what Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month is really for—to learn the good, and unlearn the bad, together. 

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Featured

Chauvin Is Guilty. Our Work Is Cut Out for Us.

Our gratitude for this measure of accountability is soul-deep. And now we ask ourselves, will things really be different this time? The answer is that they can be, if we seize this moment.

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Photo Credit: Christy Price
Just a few days have passed since Derek Chauvin’s conviction in the murder of George Floyd. But the images from that moment are seared in our memories forever: the murderer, led away in handcuffs. The Floyd family, Philonise Floyd speaking through tears, at the microphones after the verdict. The crowds outside the courthouse erupting in cheers when the verdict was read.
Our gratitude for this measure of accountability is soul-deep. And now we ask ourselves, will things really be different this time? The answer is that they can be, if we seize this moment.
Washington has sent encouraging signs that it is serious about addressing police violence and systemic racism. Congress should pass the imperfect but important George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. The Justice Department is forging ahead with investigations of police departments in Minneapolis and Louisville, and the shooting of Anthony Brown in North Carolina.
We have work to do in our own neighborhoods, too.
Policing is a local function, controlled by city, county and state governments. These governments answer directly to us, the citizens. And there is a lot we can do to insist on change.
One of the most inspiring examples today is in Ithaca, New York, a college town led by a dynamic young Black mayor. There, Mayor Svante Myrick and the city council approved a plan to do away with their traditional police department and replace it with a new Department of Community Solutions and Public Safety, in which some personnel would carry weapons – and, importantly, some would not.
Instead, unarmed social workers would respond to the many calls in which an armed response is unnecessary and even dangerous. The new department will have a civilian supervisor. It will focus on de-escalating situations in which people are at risk, and restoring trust among the city’s communities of color, homeless residents, LGBTQ residents and residents with disabilities.
The plan came together with input from local residents as well as city and county officials. It is the kind of innovative thinking we want in communities across the nation, and the energy around the Chauvin trial helped get it over the finish line.
We all can harness that energy where we live. Our year of speaking out and taking to the streets will serve us well; we can organize, and demonstrate, and show up in the places where local lawmakers meet to do their work. We can contact our local representatives directly; they might live next door or down the street.
And while the task of changing thousands of police departments, one by one, seems huge, think of this: more than half of Black Americans live in 25 metropolitan areas. We can get serious about saving Black lives by starting in those metro areas. And we can build a movement that inspires others to act.
One of the most emotional moments after George Floyd’s murder last year came when his daughter Gianna, then six, said, “Daddy changed the world.” If we want her to be right in the long run, we can do our part to make her words come true. And each of us can start right here at home.

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