A Dismissal of Being


There has been much discussion of late about the murder of Trayvon Martin. It’s eerie and surreal how much of a flash back one might have if we allowed ourselves to look honestly at the past—particularly with respect to dealing with external and internal attacks on the African American community. Why since the capture of the first Africans who would suffer the fate of becoming Slaves in the “new world” more than too many African Americans have succumbed to the dismissal of their very being, both as individuals and in the collective.

We might liken it to a self-fulfilling prophecy intensely amplified. Social scientists would probably suggest that the atmospheres that spawned Slavery and Jim Crow—the old and new, have led many people to de-value African American life so much so that murdering Black people, even the children and/or herding the poor and working class off to the hinterlands of any given urban area and shutting them off from even the most basic services and amenities is simply par-for-the course in the Blacks in America experience.

Trayvon’s murder is not the first of its kind; and unless we look deep into the psyche of the American community; and very specifically and first, the African American community itself, and make sweeping changes regarding socio-emotional status of African Americans in the United States of America, there will be more. There are similar murders and cases of deliberate disregard for the very person-hood of African Americans over the course of America’s recent and long ago history that prove this point.

For instance in more recent history: Seven year old Gavin Cato was killed “accidentally” on a Monday afternoon in August of 1991 as he played with his cousin when the driver of a station wagon in a motorcade escorting a Hasidic Rabbi through the Crown Heights neighborhood of New York ran into a 600 pound stone pillar, causing it to fall on to the children—a riot ensued and Yankel Rosenbaum, a young Jewish student was killed;

Roger Owensby Jr. was strangled to death on Wednesday, November 7, 2000 while in the custody of the Cincinnati Police Department;

Timothy Thomas was shot in the heart by a Cincinnati police officer and pronounced dead at 3:02 April 8, 2001—he was 19 years old and;

James Craig Anderson was beaten by a group of young White teenagers, and then run over by four of those teens as they drove away from the scene in their Ford 250 pick-up truck.

And there are many, many more. For example, according to the New York Times, in March of 2011 alone, at least seven African Americans were killed by police in Miami. There are still more, perhaps even more than we can count because so many African American murder victims never make the 5 o’clock news.

On another note, thousands of African Americans were displaced and at least hundreds were killed by Hurricane Katrina. Oddly, the flood waters disproportionately impacted the poor and working class African Americans who were living in the 9th Ward of New Orleans—apparently closer to the levies than any of their gulf-coast neighbors. This point should provoke in us at least a small curiosity that would cause us to ask, “Why is that so?” Or perhaps: “Why would we leave so many human beings so close to harm; so close to levies that were clearly not adequate enough to save lives in the event of a hurricane?”

And yet another seemingly disjointed point, but critical to the whole of the way many, many African American’s exist in America: It’s probably safe to assume that anyone who follows local DC politics has heard of Marion Barry’s recent suggestions that Asian carry-outs are dirty and should be replaced by African American businesses. In fact, we might also guess that many locals are commenting on the “comments” made by the former mayor. The sad fact is that that will likely be the beginning and end of the collective response—much as the responses have been to the blatant and heinous murders of, and abominable disregard for, so many innocent Black people over the years.

In truth, at first glance, it’s obviously difficult to see the relationship between the murders of innocent people, a hurricane and a politician’s call for carry-out owners to vacate a neighborhood. But in fact the three happenings are inextricably woven together, and together, coupled with a history of like occurrences and responses, they create and continue to perpetuate an environment in which only more of the same can fester and grow.

To the point: In the case of Gavin Cato, while it seems likely that his death was an accident, it was a result of a negligence that in a reverse racial situation the perpetrator probably would not have been so quickly released. Further, in this case, Lemrick Nelson and Charles Price, both African American young men, were charged in the killing of Yankel Rosenbaum and subsequently convicted of civil rights violations related to Rosenbaum’s death.. Interestingly, there was not even so much as a smack on the hand for the driver that caused Gavin’s death.

With respect to Roger Owensby Jr. and Timothy Thomas, the officers involved in the Owensby killing were charged with manslaughter and misdemeanor assault—neither was convicted; and the officer who gunned Timothy Thomas down was found “not guilty” of two misdemeanor charges: negligent homicide and obstructing official business. And finally in the case of James Craig Anderson, only two of the teens involved in that brutal murder, which was caught on tape (surveillance cameras on a nearby building), were charged—one with murder and given a bail of $50,000, of which he would only be responsible for paying $5,000; and the other with simple assault.

These cases alone suggest that when it comes to the loss of Black life the justice system places no real importance or value on bringing the perpetrators to justice. And this, for those outside the system, should highlight a blatant disregard for African American life.

As for Katrina, we all remember the now infamous Kanye West quote, “President Bush doesn’t care about Black people.” What we may not choose to note is that those “Black people” had been poor and struggling long before the hurricane broke through the levies and washed so much life away. Where were we as a society before the levies broke? Why hadn’t we gone to rescue the people of the 9th Ward before Katrina made land? Could it be because for the most part, the residents of the 9th Ward were African American—asked rhetorically.

And in that same vein: Why are there so many dilapidated carry-outs (run by any ethnic group) in DC’s Ward 8; and in other poorer predominately African American neighborhoods across the city for that matter? And why have they been allowed to exist for so long? Some might answer that it’s simply because African Americans have allowed it. And those who would answer in that way are likely to be same people who will look head-on at the fact that while it’s true that many African Americans have made significant progress—why there’s even a Black President—others have not.

And those who have not yet “arrived” are living in neighborhoods that are far too vulnerable to withstand a natural or man-made disaster; and yes, they are living in neighborhoods where filthy rat infested carry-outs that dot the “commercial” streetscapes, where the proprietors offer only a “what you want” through the faded “bullet-proof” partition as a greeting for their African American customers. Not so long ago young African Americans placed extreme emphasis on not allowing oneself to be “dissed” and so would have immediately hurt a contemporary or an elder for far less.

In fact, Fights that were too often fatal stemmed from the mere perception that someone had been “dis”respected. Perhaps it’s a matter of dis-placed aggression or remnants of self-loathing brought on by Slavery that makes it so easy for African Americans to diminish the quality of life for, or even take the lives of, one another. And perhaps for those outside the group it’s a matter of their interpretations of how Black folks treat one another that makes it easy for them to disregard and disrespect the very humanness that resides in the “Souls of Black Folks.” In any case, it’s sad that after all this time, being Black in America can still mean being dissed to the point where it’s as if you weren’t even there.


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