Law schools seek diversity in order to prepare students to meet the needs of our diverse society. This would include Asians, African-Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans. Lawyers should be leaders who change their communities through a commitment to justice and equality for all people. If we are going to serve clients of different racial, religious and sexual orientations lawyers must understand their feelings and culture. Enter All Lives Matter.
What do Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Robbie Tolan, Akai Gurley, Floyd Dent, Walter Scott, Eric Courtney Harris, Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, Samuel DuBose, Christian Taylor, Lequan McDonald, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and Stephon Clark have in common? These 16 names conjure up fear and resonate strongly in black America. It also speaks loudly on law school campuses, especially among minority students. They are not silent protesters but are part of a national movement to fundamentally reform our country’s approach to law enforcement and criminal justice. I believe that almost all of them have experienced some form of prejudice, bias or injustice. They feel added pressure and a responsibility to ensure that the law is applied fairly. On November 30, 2014, several NFL St. Louis Rams took the field with hands held high. This is the universal sign for surrender. In honoring Michael Brown, they adopted the stance to show solidarity and a demand for justice after a grand jury chose not to indict police officer Darren Wilson. This is why they protest.
Baltimore, Maryland the city that once lured visitors with crab cakes and other amenities had close to one million people – is now a different city. Baltimore’s eruption of violence is based on decades of systemic failure. It was alleged that predatory policing was going on under the rule of law. Race is never a simple equation in America. And, racism is not going to go away quietly unless we have the determination and the courage to individually and collectively change our thinking and behavior.
Linwood Lambert, an unarmed black construction worker living in South Boston, Virginia on May 4, 2015, was hit 20 times by a taser gun. The South Boston police maintain that it was cocaine that caused his death and not the repeated tasing. A civil lawsuit has been filed alleging excessive force.
Another fatal confrontation between law enforcement and an unarmed black male is the fatal shooting of Samuel DuBose of Cincinnati, Ohio. Ray Tensing, a University of Cincinnati police officer was indicted on July 29, 2015, on murder charges in the fatal shooting of Samuel DuBose. DuBose an unarmed black motorist was stopped because of a missing front license plate. Hamilton County prosecutor, Joseph Deters called the July 19th killing of Samuel DuBose “senseless” and “totally unwarranted.” Protestors are clamoring that national refrain: Black Lives Matter. A new movement is taking shape and sweeping the country – Black Lives Matter. Activists are working to make the country confront racial issues. They have performed a plethora of demonstrations to focus on institutional racism.
A fatal confrontation between law enforcement and unarmed black males are Christian Taylor and Linwood Lambert. Taylor, age 19 an unarmed black college football player was shot by Brad Miller in Arlington, Texas on August 8, 2015. Miller, who is white and in training as a police officer was fired for causing a deadly confrontation that put him and other officers in danger. This shooting comes amid increased scrutiny nationwide of police use of deadly force in cases involving black unarmed suspects.
Another series of fatal confrontations happened in July 2016 between law enforcement and unarmed black males occurred in Minnesota and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The premeditated murder of 5 white police officers in Dallas, Texas, and injury to 9 innocent people in retaliation is outrageous. In the words of Dr. Brian H. Williams, a trauma surgeon at Parkland Hospital: “This has to stop!”
On March 18, 2018, Stephon Clark a 22-year-old black man was fatally shot by local police in Sacramento, California. Stephon was in his own backyard carrying a cell phone and not a gun. Sacramento protesters are justifiably upset and demonstrations continue. The question remains: Why are black men constantly being identified and mistaken as carrying a weapon? It appears that when dealing with black suspects police shoot first and ask questions later. And, the same narrative prevails: “I was in fear of my life!”
Keep in mind that a minority person in America has to perform all the functions and daily responsibilities just like members of the majority. But, minorities have additional daily burdens and hurdles to jump. A threatening look, a stare or slight requires thick skin to let it pass. And, its effect remains in the psyche of the intended recipient.
I believe parents in some form have to explain to their children “This black skin you got from me will cause you to waste a king-size slice of your lifetime fending off affronts, bias and injustice – both real and imagined.”
The term race is a social construct that has evolved from colored, Negro, black to African-American. There is no scientific basis for race. It is a made-up label. The concept of race has no genetic or scientific basis. All human beings are closely related. Everyone has the same collection of genes except identical twins. Homo sapiens our species, evolved in Africa.
The road to equality for black Americans is full of potholes that have gutted the highway. Racism, oppression, egregious discrimination, violence, despair, and faith are the themes that define the black experience in America.
Race – racism – is in the very threads of the American fabric. It is the essential thread woven into our national character. No matter how we embroider the cloth, it will always be there. Thus, skin color becomes the primary measure of a human’s abilities. To the racist, individuals exist only within each race, their qualities dictated by genetic inheritance.
Racism is vicious. It is a learned behavior, built on false premises and fueled by constant cultural reinforcement. Science defines you by your DNA. Society defines you by the color of your skin. We live in a society historically defined by racial boundaries of our own invention. Therefore, we can and should, individually and collectively, change our thinking and behavior.
Read NBA Player Kyle Korver’s essay, Privileged in the April 9, 2019, New York Times by Victor Mather at https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/09/sports/kyle-korver-white-privilege.html Korver states that he is embarrassed by the systemic racism and the way black people are treated in America.
What happened in Ferguson, Missouri, New York City, Cleveland, Ohio, Bellaire, Texas, Inkster, Michigan, North Charleston, South Carolina, Tulsa, Oklahoma, Sanford, Florida Chicago, Illinois, Baltimore, Maryland, Minnesota, Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Sacramento, California is a product of institutional racism that engenders an inherent fear of black males. The genesis is primal fear. Police officers are in fear of interacting with black males. Some of it is understandable, but mostly it is the assumption by society in general that blacks are inherently bad, violent and have a propensity for bad behavior.
Robbie Tolan, the son of Major League Baseball player Bobbie Tolan, in 2008 was shot 3 times, in his parents’ driveway by a Bellaire, Texas police officer. The police were responding to a mistaken report of a stolen car. We have been primed to fear black males despite the empirical reality. The media in print, film and television has helped to foster, reinforce and sustain this primal image beginning from slavery, minstrel shows, black-face performances to stating” The first African-American to do………….”, or Eric Holder made history as the first African-American U.S. Attorney General”, implying that no black person before, was qualified. Even former President Barack Obama falls victim to such ridiculous gorilla effigies. This cumulative effect is the reason why black males make so many people profoundly scared.
In sum, we are desegregated, but we are not integrated. Tellingly go to any public school or college cafeteria and observe how racial groups are seated. Campus racism is not limited to one particular school or geographical area because it exists at many colleges and universities and in different ways. In the Chronical of Higher Education, Jan. 8, 2016 at A21, black students describe racial division, isolation, and prejudice at the University of Missouri-Columbia campus. They are clamoring: “Racism Lives Here.”
As a group, police officers are not racist. It is the system that is racist. That is what the majority of protesters are saying. The system causes cops to be petrified interacting with black males. We need to address and fix the system. The deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Gardner, Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley, Walter Scott, Trayvon Martin and Stephon Clark unarmed black males, killed by white police officers, using government-issued bullets, which went unpunished should cause us to question racial progress. Additionally, institutional and individual racism makes sick people become more mentally unstable. Case in point is the ambush and assassination of two New York City police officers Ramos and Liu in December 2014. And, Dylan Roof who murdered 9 Black citizens in their church during religious services.
So, when people ask: We had a Black President. Why do we need people like the late Dean Robb, the ACLU, Urban League, affirmative action and the NAACP at this late date? The answer is: It’s not that late! Black people in America have told me: “We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock – Plymouth Rock landed on them.” Notwithstanding the aforesaid, no minority person anywhere has been successful without the support of someone in the majority group.
Americans of all races are denouncing racism and discriminatory policing by law enforcement agencies. Rallies and marches are taking place across America. A new focus is being placed on racial equity. The U.S. Justice Department has determined that black people in Ferguson, Missouri routinely had their civil rights violated.
On July 6, 2016, 2 white police officers shot at close range a black Minnesota man during a traffic stop. A day later a Black man is shot dead by white police officers while selling CDs outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Minorities are understandably upset because of the recent series of high profile police shootings and a long history of violence against blacks in America. But, the retaliation shooting in Dallas, Texas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana of innocent police officers is not the answer.
The burning of three Black churches in March 2019 over the course of ten days in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana serves as a reminder of racism’s continuing legacy. Moreover, Black maleness today is a potentially fatal condition. Being Black could turn an ordinary situation into a death moment. An unarmed black male is ten times more likely to be killed by a police officer than an unarmed white male. This is the Black experience in America.
PITTSBURGH, SAN DIEGO & EL PASO
On Oct 27, 2018, a mass shooting in Pittsburgh, PA. in a synagogue was the deadliest attack on Jews in American history. Saturday is Sabbath for the Jewish faith, a time for prayer. Instead, it turned into a day of mourning for people nationwide. This is a hate crime. If you think that we do not need police officers and first responders – think again.
On October 27, 2019, at Congregation Chabad in Poway north of San Diego, California another synagogue shooting left one dead and three injured.
On August 3, 2019 in El Paso, Texas 22 people were killed and 24 injured in a mass shooting. Patrick Crusius, age 21 is charged with capital murder.
I paraphrase former President Lyndon Johnson’s speech to Congress on March 15, 1965 on voting rights. “I speak tonight for the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy. It is not a Negro problem but an American problem to solve the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.”
Can a nation founded on religious freedom and human rights come to treat all of its citizens fairly in the twenty-first century? I believe we can.
About the Author
James A. Johnson of James A. Johnson, Esq. is an accomplished Trial Lawyer. Mr. Johnson is an active member of the Massachusetts, Michigan, Texas and Federal Court Bars. He concentrates on serious Personal Injury, Insurance Coverage, Entertainment & Sports Law and Federal Criminal Defense. His website is www.JamesAJohnsonEsq.com