By Robin Brown
“Because hate is legislated, written into the primer and testament, shot into our blood and vein like vaccine or vitamins….”
– Walter Benton
All of the anger, tears and cries for justice being heard about recent acts of bloody violence perpetuated against African-American men is seemingly reaching more people across the nation than ever before. What appears to be an increasing disregard for the respect for life and freedom for people of color has shocked and angered people and raised new levels of fear and hatred. But our history reveals that we’ve been here many times before. The words of poet Walter Benton are about lost love; but those words could be translated to describe a small segment of our American population.
The issues of disrespect, insensitivity and mass slaughter of black people is nothing new. The only difference is that through the eyes of electronic media more people are seeing and hearing it than ever before. If you know your history, you know I’m right. And even though we’re no longer enslaved we’re still seeking our full measure of freedom, justice, respect and equality. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so astutely put it, changing laws can change some behavior, but it has little impact on changing hearts.
Statistics reveal men of color being killed by law enforcement two times more than white men. Equally shameful is the horror we perpetuate when we turn on each other. We must not ignore our own deficiencies in the big picture of social responsibility. The reasons are many and complicated: educational opportunities, poverty, unemployment, one-parent households. This is not a blanket indictment because many single parents have raised children who have been educated and became successful contributors to society. But now mothers are being jailed for disciplining their children – one of the most despicable legal impediments that must be scrutinized by our legislators with all deliberate speed. Like all good parents, African-Americans teach their children to be respectful and do unto others as you would have them do for you. Of course, respect is a two-sided coin.
During my years in the military, working in the media and politics, I’ve been exposed to the best and worst of mankind. I know there are many good law enforcement persons dedicated to living up to their responsibility to protect and serve. They face danger every day to serve our needs. We could not survive without the police. We have to support and uplift those who engage danger, some visible and some hidden, on the streets of our city. But there’s an insidious minority with a different agenda. These are the ones who joined the force because they enjoy inflicting pain on others.
Police departments must do a better job of hiring and training qualified recruits. There should be ongoing psychological, public and human relations training for recruits and veteran officers. The frequency of police killings of African Americans is deeply imbedded in the psyche of some who have never, and may never, accept blacks as worthy of the rights guaranteed by the constitution.
We’ve got to find a way to coexist and overcome fear of one another. It’s good to see our leaders moving to bring people together to seek common ground during this current time of crisis. Hope springs eternal. More emphasis, however, must also be placed on training officers to recognize threats and to recognize when to respond with deadly force.
Also, our legislators, local and national, must get more involved in seeking solutions to these crucial issues.
Finally, as African Americans, it is always important for us to connect with our past and recognize the present as we organize for the future.