Monday, June 8, 2020

Liberty and Justice for Black Lives, by Don Orth

Two weeks of protests, prompted by the killing of George Floyd by police officers, dominate the news cycle. We’ve seen this before. I fully support protesters and demand liberty, justice, and an end to police brutality. Black Americans are two-and-a-half times as likely as white Americans to be killed by police officers. I am angry.

Where black people are most disproportionately killed by police. Source.
Where you live matters! The color of your skin matters! The color of skin matters if you complain about police misbehavior (Headley et al. 2020). Black and Hispanic complainants are much less likely to have their allegations of police misconduct sustained. 

Do we still have a dream?
I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character”. On 28 August in 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  When I re-read Martin Luther King’s acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize and I wonder how he maintained his faith.  When a police officer kills a dream, you can expect a protest. 
George Floyd protest, Columbus Ohio, May 30, 2020. Photo by Paul Becker  CC BY 2.0
This video, Seething, by Milmon F. Harison, reflects stories told across the United States. It’s time to listen, show solidarity, and join the movement to dismantle institutions and systems built on white supremacy and racism.  The privileged should not wonder why we are protesting.  Protests will continue until real reforms are made. 

As a young adolescent, I learned lessons from protests against injustice. I see several parallels to the present day.  In the 1960s instead of a widespread pandemic killing people, we had far distant, unpopular war killing people in Viet Nam.  The 1960s also saw strong anti-black sentiment, and disgust for progressive programs of relief, recovery, and reform that generated jobs and hope for the disadvantaged. It was a time of hope from passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And the privileged were threatened.  In 2020, we have a pandemic killing people, resurgence of white supremacists, calls for law and order (the shooting begins when the looting starts), and anti-progressive or anti-Obama political order. 
I was too young to remember the lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955. Till was raised in a neighborhood due west of my West Englewood neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. On a visit to see relatives in Mississippi a white woman accused Till of whistling at her. Till was kidnapped and brutally murdered by her husband and brother.  The woman later confessed she had lied (T. Tyson 2017, The Blood of Emmett Till).  Thousands viewed his mutilated body in his funeral in Chicago.   A month after the murder the husband and brother were acquited by an all-white, 10-man jury that deliberated 67 minutes. Yet, the Emmett Till Antilynching Act is now stalled in the U.S. Senate. 

As I look back on the 1960s, the causes of unrest appear clear. President Lyndon Johnson brought together the Kerner Commission to locate the causes of urban unrest, and many told him the truth about what the problem was. There was an entire minority report called The Harvest of American Racism, that the public never saw. Harvest of American Racism Minority Report was labeled DESTROY (McLaughlin 2014). 
On May 14, as Jackson State College students protested the injustices of the war and American racism, the police opened fire on the rally, killing two and injuring 12. Founded in 1877 to serve those recently freed from slavery, Jackson State College struggled against white supremacists seeking to limit African American access to education.  Four Kent State students were killed by the Ohio National Guard as they protested the war. These shootings and those at Jackson State set off a widespread outrage that linked the war to police violence and domestic injustice. The protest of a spectrum of black leaders, athletes, activists, artists, and entertainers helped force the federal government to start withdrawing troops from Vietnam in late 1969. 
Blatant discrimination lead to formation of organizations like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Black Panthers, and Students for a Democratic Society, which organized protests.  The 1960s saw assassinations of strong and vocal leaders. Medgar Evers assassinated in 1963 a by white supremacist KKK member. John F. Kennedy, Jr., assassinated in 1963 by a lone gunman or a un-named group of conspirators.   Malcom X denounced the Viet Nam war, and advocated for separation of blacks from whites, was killed in 1965.  Martin Luther King, Jr., was the earliest and most effective voice for civil rights and non-violent protests. He also denounced the Viet Nam war.  He was assassinated by James Earl Ray in 1968 after receiving a threatening letter from the FBI that said “You are done.” 
The influence of the war in Viet Nam had some parallels with the current pandemic.  Both the Viet Nam war and the COVID-19 pandemic have had a disproportionate effect on African Americans. African Americans were disproportionately drafted. In 1967, 64% of eligible African American youth were drafted, but only 31% of eligible whites. During 1965-66, the casualty rate for blacks was twice that of whites
 Six of the twelve U.S. servicemen killed on October 8 in the crash of two U.S. Marine helicopters in South Viet Nam. AP photo. CC BY 2.0
Rioting in the Watts neighborhood in Los Angeles occurred after an incident of police overreaction. Year of discriminatory housing practices affected Watts, like many other city neighborhoods, that had absorbed large population of blacks during the period from WWII to 1965.  An African-American, Maquette Freye on parole for robbery was pulled over for reckless driving and a fight with police ensued.  This incident led to eight days of rioting, and left 34 people dead, 1,032 injured, 3,952 arrested, 600 businesses destroyed, and total damage of more than $40 million. Los Angeles was the location of rioting against police brutality after the Rodney King beatings in 1972. 

I remember the rioting in Chicago at the summer Democratic convention in 1968. President Lyndon Baines Johnson withdrew his name from consideration in March 1968, leaving the Democratic spot open. Tensions were high and rioting occurred in many cities after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968. In June, Robert F. Kennedy, a progressive Presidential nominee, was assassinated. At the Chicago convention, riots broke out from Anti-Vietnam war protestors supporting anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley deployed 12,000 police officers and called in another 15,000 state and federal officers to contain the protesters. The situation then rapidly spiraled out of control, with the policemen severely beating and gassing the demonstrators, as well as newsmen and doctors who had come to help.

The riot, known as the Battle of Michigan Avenue,was caught on television, and sparked a large-scale change in American society. For the first time, many Americans came out in opposition to the Vietnam War. Protests continued in many cities. Hubert Humphrey, Johnson’s vice president, won the Democratic nomination. George Wallace ran as a racial segregationist and Richard Nixon ran on a campaign that promised to restore law and order to the nation's cities and provide new leadership in the Vietnam War. Nixon’s rhetoric appealed to the anti-black voters at the time. John Ehrlichman wrote in his diary, the subliminal appeal to the anti-black voter was always present in Nixons statements and speeches.”   We all know how that turned out.

Fast forward 50 years. The decade of 2010-2020 has been marked by police brutality and killing, white nationalism, and domestic terrorism.  The U.S. Senate and house condemned violence as hundreds of torch-bearing White nationalists, White supremacists, Klansmen, and neo-Nazis [who] chanted racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-immigrant slogans and violently engaged with counter-demonstrators on and around the grounds of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.”  Donald Trump, now a symbol of division, referred to "very fine people on both sides," while clearly aware there were white supremacists (Unite the Right) on one side.  

The killing last month of George Floyd at the hands of four police officers, was not an isolated incident. It is a recent incident among numerous incidents of unjustified use of force by police against innocent citizens. This is systematic racism. Recent events were recognized by independent experts who are calling for the US to reform its criminal justice system (UN Human Rights Council).   Blacks make a greater share of prisoners in U.S. prisons and have for a long time (Gramlich 2019).

 Source Pew Research Center
Police brutality and killings by police, white supremacists, and domestic terrorists affects us all as we grieve with families of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Ezell Ford, Laquan McDonald, Eric Garner, Jamar Clark, Resell Jones, Kenny Watson, Walter Scott, Terrence Crutcher, Michelle Shirley, Philando Castille, Botham Jean, Stephon Clark, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Alton Sterling, George Floyd, Chris Beaty, and so many others. 

President Donald Trump emboldens white nationalists and fails to speak or act on the problem. Silence supports the status quo science and supports systematic racism. Dylan Roof killed nine at a Charleston church in 2015.  Robert Gregory Bowers killed 11 wounded six at a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2017. More than 70,000 people signed a letter saying that Trump was not welcome until he "fully denounces white nationalism" rabbi Jeffrey Myers said, "There is hate, and it isn't going away. It just seems to be getting worse. ... We've got to stop hate, and it can't just be to say we need to stop hate. We need to do, we need to act to tone down rhetoric"

Mural showing the portrait of George Floyd in Mauerpark in Berlin. To the left of the portrait the lettering "I can't Breathe" was added, on the right side the three hashtags #GeorgeFloyd, #Icantbreathe and #Sayhisname. The mural was completed by Eme Street Art aka Eme Free Thinker on 29 May 2020.  CC0 1. 
Actions To Fight Racism

  • Do not remain silent.  "You got to fight the power, fight the power, fight the powers that be." Public Enemy, from Do the Right Thing 
  • Businesses should speak out. Ben & Jerry’s has been publicly calling out racism and tells its customers why systematic racism is real. 
  • Recognize your own privilege and begin a conversation about racism with coworkers. While it may be difficult, it is not as difficult as living in fear every day.  We must recognize that our colleagues who are black and brown experience a hateful world and many difficulties in working in our disciplines.
  • Read the news critically. Some recent reports on assaults on police were falsehoods, and in fact, policy behavior was appalling and unjustified.  
  • Sponsor or participate in public events to highlight black scientists.  The Twitter #blackbirdersweek event was highly successful.  We heard many stories including a story of a scientist who is “always scared for my safety.”
  • Join a group, join a protest, let people know we are listening and that we believe black lives matter because solidarity matters.
  • Find your voice and speak to power now. The most dangerous form of white racism is the “the taken‐for‐granted routine privileging of white interests” that goes unremarked in the political mainstream (Gillborn 2005).
  • Faculty members should advocate to their administration to invest strongly into strengthening diversity and equity initiatives. 
  • Vote!
  • Act consistently and persistently.
  • Avoid being judgmental.  Barack Obama said “Thats not activism. Thats not bringing about change,” he said. If all youre doing is casting stones, youre probably not going to get that far. Thats easy to do.”
  • Demand congressional oversight of Commission on law enforcement and administration of justice 
  • Fight for environmental justice. Government responses to disasters fail to protect all communities equally (Bullard and Wright 2012). In places like Detroit and Flint, Michigan, water rights violations were a powerful motivator to protest and fight for inclusive government and fair access to water (Christy 2018).    
  • Show of solidarity with your professional organizations. The American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, The American Fisheries Society, and many other scientific and professional groups have released statements about recent police killings. 
Racism distorts all parts of the system. Source. 
Bigger policy issues remain after making small steps in police reforms.  Racism is built into every place in our society. Income inequality, particularly in urban areas, has increased markedly over the last forty years.  The divide between rich and poor is reflected in access to education, opportunities, services, political influence, and justice. Reforms are needed to address systematic reforms in educational policy (Gillborn 2005; Cabrera 2014), welfare systems (Kolkvosky 2018), mental health care (Brown 2003), housing (Metzgar and Webber 2019), urban planning (Banzhaf et al. 2019; Reardon and Raciti 2019), public health (Lee et al. 2015; Brailsford et al. 2019), water utilities (Clark 2019), and environmental protection (Konisky 2009).  Contact your congressional representatives and ask that they support the Justice in Policing Act of 2020Support DC statehood so residents have a voice in government. 

The long history of discriminatory practices and recent egregious actions by police against blacks means mediation is required to improve policy-minority community relations before real reforms in policing are possible (Braga et al 2019). What seems very different today from the 1960s is the widespread hatred spread by irresponsible, despicable idiots on television. For example, conservative commentator Tucker Carlson Fox News recently denounced the cult racial mentality, as if white supremacists haven’t been pushing a racial division agenda for many decades.  Boycott these idiots.

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. reply, Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me. Matthew 25 (40-45) 

Black Lives Matter is about justice and equality, and putting an end to police brutality 

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