Statement on the Sean Bell Verdict
April 26, 2008
"[T]he legislation and histories of the time, and the language used in the Declaration of Independence, show, that neither the class of persons who had been imported as slaves, nor their descendants, whether they had become free or not, were then acknowledged as a part of the people, nor intended to be included in the general words used in that memorable instrument. . . . [A]ltogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect."
And with that, the United States Supreme Court ensured that the 20th Century would be defined, as W.E.B. DuBois wrote, by the color line. So, while we might be outraged at the Sean Bell decision itself, it comes directly from the flawed jurisprudence that gave us the Dred Scott Decision in 1857, Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, Bakke in 1978, Croson in 1989, Adarand in 1995, Gratz in 2003, and all of the Ward Connerly-inspired attacks on the very same affirmative action hard won by students facing water hoses and dogs; men and women facing jail, lynch mobs, and death.
Interestingly, according to Attorney Roger Wareham of the December 12th Movement's International Secretariat, the criminal justice system in this country "always finds a rationale for letting off cops who kill black and brown people." Indeed, police officers seem to know that they can kill certain people with impunity.
Just in New York City alone, Wareham rattles off the murders that have defined police-"communities of color" relations over two generations:
Clifford Glover, 1972
Louis Baez, 1978 shot (22 times)
Randolph Evans, 1979
Eleanor Bumpers, 1985 (a grandmother)
Amadou Diallo, 1999
Patrick Dorismond, 2003
Sean Bell, 2006
Sadly, New York City isn't the only city, with this plague. In 2001, the Dayton Daily News reported that Cincinnati topped the list of police killings of Blacks, having had 22 people shot, 13 fatally. All black men. Three unarmed. Plus two additional deaths due to police use of chemical irritants.
The 2001 "Cincinnati Intifada" lasted for three nights after a white police officer murdered an unarmed black teenager. Timothy Thomas was the fifteenth black male killed by Cincinnati police over a six-year period. I traveled with Ron Daniels and others to Cincinnati to support the call by black residents, including Reverend Damon Lynch III and 36 other ministers, for a boycott of that city. Still reeling from the effects of the boycott, Cincinnati made headlines again in 2003 when the world watched as one black and five white police officers repeatedly beat Nathaniel Jones with batons and then left him in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant, only to be pronounced dead later at the hospital.
The "Benton Harbor, Michigan Intifada of 2003" lasted two nights after the murder of an unarmed black motorcyclist by white police officers. Adding insult to injury, the residents of majority-black Benton Harbor are reeling under an attempted takeover of the last "undeveloped" beachfront property on Lake Michigan. The residents are under attack by the Whirlpool Corporation, that wants to develop "Benton Shores" and move all of the residents completely out of the town. The purported goal of the development is to turn Benton Harbor into one of the "hottest vacation destinations in the country," to include a members-only indoor water park, and a Jack Nicklaus golf course. According to Reverend Edward Pinkney, the valiant leader who is trying to save Benton Harbor for the people, Harbor Shores will result in a complete takeover of Benton Harbor, a city that is 96% Black. Reverend Pinkney has been in jail since December 14, 2007 on trumped- up charges including violation of probation, for writing an article calling the chief judge racist. Mrs. Pinkney called the Office of Michigan Congressman John Conyers, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee to ask for justice for the residents of Benton Harbor and for her husband. Shockingly, Chairman Conyers refused Mrs. Pinkney's plea to get involved in this heroic struggle of a 96% Black community in his own state. When I visited Benton Harbor, it was clear to me that Reverend Pinkney has the full support of the area's residents, black and white, as they struggle to maintain the character of their community. Reverend Pinkney is recognized by the people as true hero and occupies a jail cell because of it.
Finally, however, someone broke the silence and admitted it. Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper wrote in his book, "Breaking Rank," that white police officers are afraid of Black men. He develops this theory in a chapter of the book entitled, "Why White Cops Kill Black Men." Finally: a hint of truth coming from the other side. In a June 16, 2005 interview with the Looking Glass News, Stamper says that he personally believes "that white cops are scared of black men. The bigger or darker the man, the more frightened the white cop. I can't shake that; it's a belief I will take to the grave."
So while the corporate press would have us believe that reporting on what a former Vice Presidential nominee says about a Presidential candidate is a discussion of race, the prospects are that black and brown men and women will continue to be murdered by police officers who, fundamentally, seem scared of black people. That fear apparently extends to the larger community because juries construct ways to let murderous police officers escape just punishment.
Roger Wareham, and the December 12th Movement International Secretariat raise, inside the Human Rights Council of the United Nations, the details of the type of police abuse in which a 92-year old grandmother, Kathryn Johnston, is murdered by police in Atlanta, Georgia and her family still has not seen justice or been made whole. Or where a young black male, also in Atlanta, can be sitting in his mother's car and is murdered because the police presume that the car is stolen.
The December 12th Movement has asked for United Nations Rapporteurs to come to the U.S. on fact-finding missions so that the U.S. can finally be listed as a major human rights abuser and a Rapporteur assigned to this country. Already, the Special Rapporteur on Racism and Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance is coming to the U.S. from May 18 - June 6 and will be in New York City on May 21st and 22nd. The December 12th Movement is scheduled to have a hearing for him at the Schomberg Center where the issue of police killings will be raised. The Rapporteur is also scheduled to visit DC, Chicago, Omaha, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Miami, and San Juan.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur for Summary and Arbitrary Executions, Mr. Phillip Alston, is conducting a Mission to the U.S. in June. The Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is also interested in reports of police abuse. If a consistent and systemic pattern of abuse exists (which it clearly does in the United States), the United Nations General Assembly can pass a resolution which helps creates international public opinion and perhaps the political will to stop it.
Certainly, doing the same thing--a cycle of protest without punishment--will net the same results. Something different must be done. That's why I authored legislation to deny federal funds and the use of federal equipment to any law enforcement unit found to have violated the civil rights of the people it is organized to protect and serve. Imagine if we had the laws on the books and the apparatus of enforcement. Imagine if juries wouldn't grant impunity to killer cops.
Some of you have written to me suggesting that we do something different: perhaps a full-scale boycott. Perhaps a full-scale, all-out political response--something many in this generation have never done before.
Bobby Kennedy always said, "Some men dream of things that are and say why. I dream of things that never were and say why not."
It is not impossible for us to have justice. We don't have to lose any more people to police abuse, brutality, or murder. But, in order to change things, we're going to have to do some things we've never done before in order to have some things we've never had before.
Are you willing to entertain that idea? Today? Right now? If we demand more of our elected representatives, I'm convinced we will get it. And it should be clear exactly what is needed if we don't get what we demand.
To read more of my writings, please visit www.allthingscynthiamckinney.com.