10 years ago we witnessed one of the darkest moments in US History. While estimates from varying sources claim that more than 1,800 lives were lost in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the actual tally has never been calculated. What may be more problematic than the sheer number of lives lost in the Crescent City, is the neglect shown to the residents of the city, prompting one Kanye West to make one of the most damning, yet profoundly evident statements in televised history. 10 years later, America is still failing to dispel that very statement, and somehow, the nation finds a way to remind us that America "doesn't care about black people."
THE SUPERDOME STEPS
In what may be the darkest hour in recent American history, the image of thousands piled on the porch of the New Orleans Superdome in August 2005 will forever be etched into the minds of Southern Blacks. If there was ever a time where the dispassion for the well-being of an entire black population was put on display in such a visible arena, it was surely evident the week Hurricane Katrina reduced the Big Easy to a pile of waterlogged rubble and rotting corpses.
Every decision made (and not made), every action taken (and not taken), and every living (and dead) body left on the streets of the city were individual referendums on the perceived value of minority lives by government officials on the local, state, and national levels. Even the label of "Refugees" that was inaccurately bestowed upon the unfortunate victims of one of the most deadly natural disasters in American history, who were in many instances permanently relocated to all corners of the country, was evidence that the media and American public viewed residents of New Orleans through a different lens than "evacuees" from pastier, more affluent areas afflicted by wildfires, floods, and tornadoes in the same calendar year. How bad was the response to Katrina? George W. Bush chose that week in history (over September 11th and sending thousands of troops to die in two unjustifiable wars) as his most regrettable moment in his entire presidency.
FBI: "WHITE SUPREMACISTS INFILTRATE POLICE"
Typically, when the FBI releases reports concerning national events, there was some drastic circumstance that prompted such an immediate response. In October 2006, the FBI issued a warning that white supremacist groups had infiltrated departments of law enforcement across the nation. The eight-page unclassified document SHOULD have led every major news organizations prime time hour in the same manner as if it were discovered that members of Islamic terrorist organizations had found a way to weasel there way into areas of our nations police force. Surprisingly (sarcasm) the damning report was taken with a grain of salt, and over time has become the most vital piece of forgotten investigative material in recent history.
History is laced with evidence of large segments of community police forces who moonlighted at cross-burning, hood-adorned shindigs. Harassment, beatings, and even murders at the hands of prejudiced police have been well documented in various forms, stemming back as far back as the antebellum slavery era. While the presence of racist police officers is far from a new concept in the lives of Black citizens, for some reason a significant portion of the population holds all members of law enforcement to an such a high regard that the prospect of racially charged impropriety has been outgrown in the mythological "post racial America". The FBI, however, warned America that this "strategic" and "self initiated" infiltration, and even recruitment from within, compromised the legal system in a wide variety of areas including "intelligence collection", "exploitation", "investigative breeches", and the jeopardizing of sources and prominent figures. Even in 2014, in the midst of civil unrest brought about because of unjust policing, several officers around the country have been relieved of their duties because of outed ties to hate organizations. Despite the efforts taken by the FBI to unveil all of this, media outlets still have the nerve to question why there is such a deep and collaborative distrust in police organizations among the black community.
THE JENA 6
If I were to tell you that a school yard scuffle occurred in the small town of Jena, Louisiana, where the worst injuries suffered were a bruised eye, busted lip, and soreness, would you expect that to become national news? Of course not. Fights happen. Boys will be boys. What would you expect the punishment levied on the participants to be? Suspension? Community service? Maybe a fine? OK... sounds reasonable. What if I told you the prosecuting attorney decided to charge all but one of the participants with (wait for it) ATTEMPTED MURDER.
A December 2006 brawl, and the resulting criminal procedure sparked national outrage centered in the small Louisiana town. The contributing factors that turned this school house fight into a prime time news story were the racial tensions that swirled around the incident for months before the brawl including the discovery of nooses strung from a tree where black students routinely gathered The school Superintendent dismissed the act as racially charged, calling it a "child's prank". The tension came to a head when 6 black males assaulted a white male, sending him to the hospital with minor injuries for precautionary reasons. The lack of severity did not prevent the district attorney from seeking to prosecute the six teens as adults for attempted murder. Jena, Louisiana became the face of systemic inequality and over-prosecution of blacks in the American legal system, as tens of thousands of advocates protested the levying of the extreme charges for such minor infractions. Charges for all six were eventually lowered and dropped all together, and most of the six became successful members of society.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE OBAMA ELECTION
When you think back on the election of 2008, what comes to mind? For some, it may be where you were the moment news media declared Barack Obama would be the next president of the United States. Others may reminisce on the victory speech given and the visual of Oprah and Jessie Jackson crying in the crowd of thousands. Maybe its the salty look your co-workers, classmates, and others had impressed on their faces the next day as they watched you walk in the office wearing your Obama shirt and bumping "My President Is Black". The 2008 was supposed to mark a turn in American society, a stepping stone into a "post-racial" America.
While most of America tried to convince you that a night in November would change hundreds of years of American history, I was more focused on the year-long campaign that preceded Election Night, and how that period of time was far more reflective of the the pulse of America than the mass celebration of perceived "equality". Somehow, the delivery of the Super Tuesday speech made people forget about how ugly the road to the president was in 2008. From the "Go Back To Africa" signs, to the random hanging nooses, the strung up monkeys, demands for his birth certificate, accusations of him being Muslim, and black faced caricatures in rural front yards, life was no crystal stair for the soon to be President. And that was just the beginning of the racially charged disrespect he would face. It seems that America was more focused on the touchdown dance than the journey it took to get to the end zone.
LOUISIANA JUDGE DENIES INTERRACIAL MARRIAGE
Its hard to believe that in the (so called) "post-racial" America, an institution as prevalent as interracial marriage could still be an issue. On the contrary, in the 21st Century, there is still opposition to the idea that some would choose to marry outside their race. However a Hammond, Louisiana couple quickly discovered that the color of a persons skin does still indeed matter in the eyes of the law. In what is considered by some to be the most exciting day in a couples life, when Beth Humphrey and Terrance McKay attempted to apply for a marriage license in their home county, they were met by a Justice of the Peace who responded, simply, "We don't do interracial marriages here". In typical fashion, Kieth Bardwell proclaimed "I'm not a racist", and he actually attempted to justify his decision to deny the couples petition for the license as his conscientious effort to protect potential "mixed children" from persecution. Bans on interracial marriages in states were ruled unconstitutional in 1967 where, at the time, 16 states still outlawed mixed unions. However, laws remained on the books in some states until as recent as 2000, when Alabama FINALLY repealed its prehistoric code.
THE REPUBLICAN RESPONSE TO OBAMA
The first two years of President Obama's first term have been considered the most productive in any American presidency in history. Fueled by Democratic support in the House and the Senate, Obama was able to implement laws that saved the auto industry, fix the housing market, produce 7 consecutive years of job growth, and push the stock market to record highs in a relatively short period of time. In two short years, he was able to rectify every mistake that President Bush made that placed the country in the worst position that it has experienced since the Great Depression.
How did the Republican Party choose to thank him for righting their wrongs? With a consorted campaign of an unprecedented level of disrespect. The midterm election of November 2008 marked a ignition point in an effort to turn President Obama into a "One-Term President". If America thought that the election of 2008 would result in harmony on Capitol Hill with joined hands and Kumbaya singing, they would surely be in for a treat as they witnessed the GOP transform the Capitol into an episode of WWE, complete with inappropriate name-calling, unfounded accusations, and quite possibly the most egregious outburst in State of the Union history, where Republican Congressman, Joe Wilson, blurted out "You lie" mid speech. While political disagreements are expected in Washington, the level of contempt shown by Republicans since taking control of the House in 2010 can only be explained by one thing...
CENSUS: 1 OF EVERY 4 BLACKS LIVE in poverty
The deteriorating economic state of African Americans in comparison to the rest of the nation's population is no secret, and in 2011 the Census released a report that showed that a quarter of Black Americans lived below the poverty line. What is not as widely known is the lengths at which local, state, and even the federal governments have gone to perpetuate the situation. From the destruction of inner city public school systems in nearly every metropolitan area across the country, to the dismantling of community programs, parks and recreation outlets, and employment and housing discrimination nationwide, the powers that be seem to be persistent in maintaining the status quo. When you couple the current circumstances of inner city neighborhoods with tangential programs initiated by governing bodies such as gentrification projects and aggressive policing policies centered around affected communities, those boot straps by which America expects Blacks to pull themselves up by seem to be non-existent.
THE TRAYVON MARTIN TRIAL
When an unsuspecting teen on a trip to the convenience store collides with an overzealous toy cop with a soon to be discovered propensity for gun violence in a small Florida suburb, the nation was turned on its end. Trayvon Martin had no clue that his last steps would be taken on a rainy night and his effigy would be forever encompassed by a hooded sweatshirt. The resulting trial would become the precursor for the treatment of African American victims of violent crimes with Caucasian suspects in coming years.
__________ was no angel. __________ had marijuana in his system. _____________ had no business being where he was when he was. It seems as if those would be adequate representations for a suspect to has a history of violent crimes involving guns, multiple arrest for domestic violence, and someone who blatantly disobeyed authorities orders in committing a crime. Instead, those were the words the media used to portray the victim, not the person who pulled the trigger who embodied all of those devilish qualities. George Zimmerman, on the other hand, was painted as a pansy who "feared for his life", a soft spoken wimp who was only doing his civic duty of protecting his neighborhood against violent, drug induced rampaging teens armed with Arizona Tea and Skittles.
The resulting trial went as most people of color expected before the jury was selected. What people didn't expect was the half-assed effort of prosecution that was put on by the State, where simple questions went unasked, dots were left unconnected, closing arguments could have been better presented by the local barbershop lawyer. George Zimmerman got off... and proceeded to violently attack at least 3 women, pull weapons on 5 people, and be placed under arrest on multiple occasions. Meanwhile the blueprint was designed for anyone seeking to get an acquittal for the murder of an unarmed black man.
THE DISMANTLING OF THE VOTING RIGHTS ACT
Quite possibly the most troubling day in recent history for African Americans was the day that the Supreme Court struck down a major part of the Voting Rights Act, paving the way racially charged widespread voter restriction. Southern states have long sought to restrict the voting power of African Americans through gerrymandering, Voter ID laws, and limiting early voting. Until 2013 states with a history of racist voting practices were required to pre-clear any proposed changes to election plans with the Department of Justice to ensure that they were not constructed in a manner that restricted, diluted, or manipulated the minority vote. After Republican successes in the 2010 election, states took the opportunity to use the new redistricting cycle as a consorted effort to address the newly participating voting public that included an energized black electorate and a surging population of Hispanic Americans, all of whom overwhelmingly vote Democratic.
Their answer, a new round of voting maps that diluted the voting population in areas with strong minority voting populations. The Department of Justice, led by Eric Holder, mounted a defense of the Voting Rights Act that lasted the better part of three years, successfully striking down discriminatory voting laws, maps, and policies. However, in 2013, the Voting Rights Act was dealt a major blow as the majority conservative Supreme Court demolished the section that defined which of the states, states that were previously opted-in to Preclearance for their history of prejudiced practices, were to be identified and regulated. In one sweeping decision, the most vital part of the law that protected minority voters across the nation was rendered unenforceable.
Republican led states responded immediately by reinstating the exact same maps, policies, and laws that had previously been ruled unacceptable.
the Ferguson Protests
Before August 2014, 95% of Americans had never heard of Ferguson, Missouri. This would soon change, and in the most dramatic fashion imaginable. If there was ever a time when America collectively believed that every ounce of racial tension that was allowed to simmer for the past decade would boil over, it was in the St. Louis suburb. The killing of Michael Brown, followed by the botchery of the resulting investigation sparked civil unrest unseen since Rodney King. From the moment police allowed the body of the Brown to smolder in the summer sun pounded streets, the temperature of the citizens began to rise. To make matters worse, the police department in Ferguson implemented a campaign of slut-shaming the victim while attempting to paint the very man who pulled the trigger as an angel. Relevant information was withheld and evidence has haphazardly collected. The Police Chief, while bumbling over various accounts of the incident seemed to have no intent of conducting an investigation into officer Darren Wilson, but had no problem releasing toxicology information that Brown had traces of marijuana in his system.
The people had enough. Peaceful protests sprouted up around the city, as thousands challenged the investigation (or lack thereof) into the death of Brown. The Ferguson police responded by aligning with surrounding municipalities and bombarding the city with thousands of officers, donned in riot gear and armed with assault rifles and ear piercing LRAD Tanks. While some actions of select onlookers were not law-abiding, a vast majority of the citizen response was peaceful. Despite that, instead of focusing their newly acquired military might of those who were committing crimes, officers took a more sweeping approach at subduing the otherwise peaceful protesters by launching hundreds of teargas canisters and rubber bullets into the crown of chanting masses.
The sensationalist nature of the media targeted images of the teargas and flashbang filled Ferguson streets, then panned to images of isolated incidents of looting. The media failed to highlight that an overwhelming majority of protest were peaceful and conducted within the citizens constitutional right to assemble. However, the fact that police responded with a disproportionate use of force was undeniable. The unrest in the city of Ferguson was the spark that ignited the current state of civil activeness in America.
- THE PRESENT
BLACK LIVES MATTER?
Fifteen years after the Bush Administration's decision to delay the evacuation of a city being faced with impending doom, allowing thousands to parish in the streets of New Orleans, there is still an organized effort attempting to convince our nation that Black lives in America do, indeed, matter. Unfortunately, that effort has fallen upon deaf ears for so long that the increased fervor intertwined in this grassroots movement is finding it difficult to take root in a land where the voice of the downtrodden has long been muffled. The past two years have been filled with mass organization, political activism, and demands for action. Some have been substantive and productive, others have not. The question presented to us now: What else must be done to make a difference? Meanwhile, the collection of Hashtags continue mount.