FERGUSON: Our Vote is Our Voice
As protesters and politicians demanded removal of County Prosecutor Bob McCullough from the case of Darren Wilson, that familiar smirk was on his face. That same arrogant tone and confident demeanor filled the lens of cameras around the world. The time to remove Bob McCulloch had passed and the latent clamor of citizens and clergy alike could be smugly disregarded. And disregard he has.
Just four days before 18 year old, unarmed Michael Brown was gunned down on a street in Canfield Green, the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri handed McCulloch his post. Less the 12% of registered voters actually went to the polls that day. As a result, McCulloch won handily in the Primary Election over one of the few prosecuting attorneys to ever even oppose him. Despite a strong showing by Attorney Leslie Broadnax, it wasn’t enough to overcome the voter apathy of North County. It’s that apathy that empowers police across the country to gun down Black boys. It’s the failure to prosecute that gives them the license to kill. Prosecution of officers, or the lack there of, is a policy established by those we let into office. Chant all we want, it’s the vote that counts.
For years Blacks were lynched, shot and brutally beaten for even attempting to cast a vote. Laws were enacted, vigilante groups formed and government officials did what they could to assure that no Negroes decided an election. Polls taxes and random tests were created and doors were closed. Yet despite the many who died to secure our right to vote, the right to decide who will make laws and policies that govern our everyday lives, we now throw the right aside like a worthless rag. Despite the obvious value that spawned the vigilante efforts of racist whites, far too few bother to try. While our ancestors faced ropes, guns and beatings, today we run at even the slightest chance of rain.
There is no question the killing of Michael Brown ripped a scab off a festering wound; no doubt the world has taken notice of the abysmal treatment of African Americans. And now that the gaping wound lies in full view of the world, it’s time to vindicate Brown’s death with more than a mere conviction. While we clamor for indictment, we’re missing the larger power to change. The power to engage in the political process and make the laws ourselves. We missed the opportunity to remove Bob McCulloch just four days before Michael Brown was killed. Clamoring now means nothing. When the time came for our voices to be heard we were out buying weaves and rims, out drinking beers with the boys and out doing anything but going to the polls. Those who failed to exercise that right, the right to vote out a man who zealously prosecutes Blacks for minor crimes while partnering with one who berated in court even the teenage victims of his client’s sex trafficking crimes, are as much to blame for the death of Michael Brown as is the officer who shot him down.
Airing Our Dirty Laundry
Several generations ago even the wealthy hung out their laundry to dry. Driers simply didn’t exist. Ropes strung from one point to the other graced yards across the American landscape where anything from house dresses to bras hung in full view. Today the term is often used when public comments are made about matters that most people keep in the family. It’s that silence, however, that keeps the wounds from healing.
As a people we are broken, broken in a different way than those suffering from the diseases of hatred, ignorance, racism and greed. Suffering most often because of that very fact. Racial hatred is alive and well and Blacks walk as the wounded dead. There’s no question that police brutality exists. Only those blinded by the comforts of privilege can ignore the excessive stops and frisks, the grossly disproportionate number of prosecutions, convictions and sentences of African Americans. It’s difficult to pretend that banks have not nickeled and dimed us with excessive and often unjustified fees. It’s impossible to disregard the predatory lending, absentee landlords, payday loan companies, and insurance misdeeds. But somewhere along the line we have to embrace our power to change, not just ourselves but how we are treated. We have to use our faith not just as a means of laying down our burdens but of taking up the sword.
For generations we’ve known we have to be ten times better to be considered at all. Yet we are. Even in the midst of oppression, discrimination, covert segregation and judicial abuse, many African Americans have risen to the top, creating fortune 500 companies, heading corporations, teaching in major institutions and topping the charts. We’ve become media moguls and dominate sports. We’ve invented a plethora of inventions and taught the medical world how to cure. We’ve taken our natural beauty and crowned it with grace, we bolster our men as towers of strength and genius whose natural prowess has wrought fear among many. Our women have loved, fought, nursed and persevered, raising men and women alike who have transcended obstacles only hatred could build.
Yet, there are those we left behind. Those whose deep color and kinkier hair create additional barriers that place targets on their backs. There are our brothers and sisters who didn’t have the church, the teacher or the mother sitting at home or climbing the corporate scales. They didn’t have a father who set the rules, wore a suit or even came around. There are our brothers and sisters, brilliant in every way, whose diamonds lost their luster in the abrasive world of trauma, neglect, poverty, and racism and police abuse. Our brothers and sisters who bought the lies that they weren’t as good, as beautiful as worthy or as bright. They learned to hate, not only each other but even themselves. They shoot, kill and ingest their own drugs. They self-medicate on cheap wine and slowly die on heroin and crack. They’re not just forgotten in America, they’ve become the new source of slave labor, delivering themselves up on platters.
We can’t ignore their self-sabotage. The decision to ignore traffic laws and simultaneously stash drugs. We can’t ignore their petty thefts that subject them to more time in jail than Wall Street criminals will ever see. We can’t ignore that they choose to carry guns and add years to their time; that they shoot and kill themselves. We can’t ignore that they add bulls eyes on their backs with their pants on the ground and erratically drive with music beckoning stops. At some point, we have to not only expect more but reach back to pull them up. We can’t just deride their dress and never look them in the eye. We can’t hide their mental illness that spawns even more.
And yet we also can’t ignore the sheer ignorance of prison. Of answering the cries for help with concrete walls and cold, steel bars. We can’t just respond to those most impacted by years of oppression with a knee jerk reaction of jail. There’s a price to be paid. It’s a price far higher than the $72 billion dollars spent each year to imprison them. It’s a price that cost society the loss of our brilliant and talented Black men, women and children. It’s a price that has robbed us of a culture of self-respect, dignity and hard work and replaced it with self-hatred, welfare checks and lunch. There’s never a free lunch and the price that we pay is high.
It’s mind boggling to see a civil and progressive country perpetuate a criminal justice system that has grown eight fold in thirty years. It’s inconceivable that, when it’s time to vote, we allow politicians to remain in office despite our Black men, and increasingly our women being snatched by the tens of thousands from our homes and away from our children, and forced to work for less than a dollar a day.
Most often the victims of crime, African Americans buy into the notion of “you do the time you do the crime”. We ignore the systematic process of criminalizing Black behaviors like pants on the ground, the systemic denial of economic opportunity and the perpetuation of an educational system that spawns primarily workers and creates masses dependent on free food, drugs and checks. We turn over our sons, daughters, father and mothers into a system of neo-slavery and go on about our daily lives lamenting their dreads, their clothing and their speech. Like the good Negro who gladly assisted his Master, we partake of the spoils of a wretched system and blindly feed our own to the wolves.
Private prisons or not, the prison industrial complex snatches as many Black men, women and children off the streets of America as the Portuguese stole from Africa. They create laws that we dutifully accept as right and shake our head when June Bug’s sent away. We must do better. As pointed out in a recent article by Pierre Blaine, Address the Institutionalization of Racism (the Killing of Michael Brown) Michael Brown is an example of one who navigated the hurdles of oppression and historical stratification to finish high school and go on to college. He set site on a trade that would elevate him from the very conditions that set a city on fire. While others attempt to taint his character it’s our responsibility to shape the image of Michael Brown and likewise define our youth. It’s our responsibility to protect them from the predators that hunt to kill and create the change we want to see.
Dr. Christi M. Griffin Founder and President
The Ethics Project www.TheEthicsProject.org
Copyright by Dr. Christi M. Griffin 2014 ©