It’s time to Break It Down!
If there is one thing, I’m certain of, it’s that a lot of White people are tired of the nearly inescapable national discourse on racism. I know a number of them don’t believe it exists, and a good many more believe White people are the victims. Not really! At least not in the deeply entrenched systemic way, that needs to be, and has needed to be, addressed for eons.
Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd. Derek Chauvin, a local police officer, killed Floyd near the intersection of East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Floyd died as a result of Chauvin applying a knee to his neck for 9 minutes and twenty-nine seconds…until death, did he depart this life. The incident sparked a national and international movement emphasizing social justice, and underscoring in a most persistent way, the ideal that, Black Lives Matter. During a global pandemic, we experienced, yet another long hot summer.
Now there are individuals who posit, the real problem is Black on Black crime. Whenever the conversation about police officers killing “frequently unarmed” Black men arises, many people I know default to the classic whataboutism of Blacks killing other Blacks being ignored, or being OK, or being underreported. Stop it! It’s none of those things. It is regularly reported. I see it on the local and national news on a near nightly basis. They are not the same. Law enforcement officers have the advantage of the power of local, state, or federal government behind them, plus firearms, Tasers, nightsticks, and an array of tools they are authorized to use to neutralize suspects. Oh yeah, purportedly, they are also equipped with advanced training and skill sets, including de-escalating conflict, and subduing uncooperative detainees. Although, admittedly, when it comes to encounters with Black folks, you wouldn’t know it.
Suffice it to say, the space in which we find ourselves is not new. In 1968, LBJ’s National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders — better known as the Kerner Commission — put out a report that attempted to address systemic racism in the US, including police violence against Black people. That was the year Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed; more than 50 years ago. Perhaps, one of the most notable elements of that study was the willingness of a White guy to cite racism aimed at Black people as quintessentially problematic.
In fact, the report pointed to the scourge of racism as a major cause of economic and social inequality for Black people. It also added that it was moving the country towards two societies: “One Black, one White, separate and unequal.” That, coupled with the brutal police treatment of people of color and poverty, helped spark the race riots of the 1960s.
This was the first time “White racism” was expressly identified in the public policy square as a major cause for inequality in status and living conditions of Black Americans. That was great, as far as it went. Unfortunately, the recommended prescriptions and remedies were not executed.
Former Oklahoma Senator, Fred Harris, the only surviving member of the Kerner Commission, said, change will only come when the people have the will, and the government is truly honest about what must be done politically, socially and economically to address racial inequality. Easier said, than done.
As Jelani Cobb, historian and co-editor of “The Essential Kerner Commission Report,” said, people and institutions already know what the problem is and that the only action that needs to be taken now is actually following the recommendations of the commission, and pay the price that comes with it.
“The actions are laid out; you really don’t need more recommendations. The fundamental observations (of the commission) have never been acted on.”
So, what exactly, were those proposed solutions?
The enduring query for the Commission was: What can be done to prevent race riots from happening again and again?
The Commission recommended:
A great, new federal program
Vigorous enforcement of the newly enacted Civil Rights laws
New jobs programs
New housing programs
New Health and education programs
Unfortunately, former Senator Harris noted, the commission coincided with what historians call “a political moment.” President Johnson was facing heat from the left to provide more support for civil rights and systemic racism issues, while the right wanted to roll back that funding, and redirect it to funding for the Vietnam War. In the final analysis, Johnson opted not to seek re-election and the Commission’s recommendations went nowhere.
There have been other commissions. None have stepped up to the challenge. Some of President Biden’s supporters are trying to frame him as a potentially transformative President. We’ll see if he can find the wherewithal to address systemic racism head-on. If his colleagues on The Hill can successfully marshal their forces and navigate to fruition the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020, he will have made an auspicious start. “Racism Is Real: Get Beyond Denial!”
I’m done; holla back!
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