(I wrote this for the Urban News in September 2020.)
Tens of thousands of Americans recently descended onto Washington DC to reenact the March on Washington in which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. The purpose of this march was to rekindle the feeling and the momentum that were present back in 1963. While George Floyd May 25th death while being detained by the Minneapolis police may have been the catalyst that started the protests around the country, he has been far from the only person of color to die in police custody. Jacob Blake is the latest in a long line of men of color who get detained by the police for some minor reason (or none) and somehow end up getting shot.
In Blake’s case, like Floyd’s, we have an infamous video. The circumstances leading up to the video are unclear. Mr. Blake was trying to break up a domestic dispute between two women; the police were called; Jacob Blake, unarmed, is seen = walking to the driver-side door of a family-type van. He opens the door to get in—where his sons are waiting for him—and then gets shot seven times in the back. Thankfully, Jacob Blake is alive. Unfortunately, he is paralyzed.
We Need Action
Since the public reaction to George Floyd’s death began early this summer, we have had plenty of protests. We have protested in large cities and small communities. We have had moments of silence. We have also had thought-provoking, emotionally and mentally stimulating speeches. It seems to me, that the time for speeches is over. Now we need a plan to move forward.
Every city needs to establish an Office of Neighborhood Safety—a civilian-led office that works closely with the police department on decreasing violence and increasing safety and well-being in our communities.
Police departments need to be refocused on the core mission which is to promote safety in the community. (This is not DE-funding, but RE-allocating budgets.) Some police funding should be diverted to social services. Police officers should not respond to situations in which someone with mental illness is exhibiting erratic behavior. Let a highly trained social workers attempt to defuse the situation before calling in the police.
All police shootings should be investigated by independent federal agencies and NOT local officials. (This will also require that our federal agencies, especially those under an Attorney General, be thoroughly depoliticized and returned to independence from the White House.) Our goal must be to keep everyone safe and have zero unarmed Americans shot by the police.
David Cornelius Smith
David Cornelius Smith was a 28-year-old gentleman who suffered from some mental issues. The police were called because he was acting erratically. A struggle ensued as the police tried to subdue him, including by tasing him five times—but were still unable to control him. The police finally wrestled Mr. Smith to the ground and pin him, face down. One police officer is on his legs. Another has his knee on Mr. Smith’s neck. After over four minutes, Mr. Smith is not moving. He is also not breathing. The Minneapolis police officers call for an ambulance and David Cornelius Smith dies in the hospital several days later.
This event occurred in September 2010. It involved the same Minneapolis police department that held down George Floyd 10 years later. Back then, there were promises of reform. There was also a multimillion-dollar civil lawsuit paid out to Mr. Smith’s family. But still the behavior persists. Still nothing has changed. This is truly depressing.
Yet it is important for us to remember that change is hard. Police departments have been allowed to police our communities as they see fit for decades. We are asking for major reform. This will not come easy. This is a fight that we need to continue on the local, state, and federal levels.
Law and Order
In 1968, Richard Nixon ran a campaign based on “restoring Law and Order.” The country had just completed eight years of Democratic rule under John F. Kennedy (1961-62) and Lyndon Johnson (1963-68). Martin Luther King had been assassinated in April 1968. Bobby Kennedy—running against Johnson—was assassinated in June. Protests and riots broke out throughout the nation. This was against a backdrop of national introspection over the Vietnam War.
But things are vastly different in 2020. Donald Trump is trying to run his reelection campaign based on “law and order.” The idea that Trump—who has ignored the Constitution, bent and broken scores of laws, and run roughshod over Congress and even ignored Supreme Court rulings—can rebrand himself as someone who supports the military and the police, is somewhat ironic. It would almost be amusing if it weren’t so appalling.
Richard Nixon was the challenger in 1968. Donald Trump is the incumbent. Therefore, whatever disorder and lawlessness that exists sprang up under his presidency. Trump has proven time and time again that he does not believe that laws apply to him.
Donald Trump obstructed justice. In the Mueller report, they clearly outlined multiple times in which Donald Trump tried to influence the outcome of the investigation, he and his Attorney General, William Barr, told us that there was no collusion, but we also know that Paul Manafort gave campaign information to a Russian citizen (the US intelligence community believes that the Russian citizen is also a Russian spy). This simple act is in fact collusion.
We also know that Donald Trump solicited the president of Ukraine to help Trump win reelection. This is also against the law. Donald Trump got impeached for this action. Donald Trump just accepted the Republican nomination for president and held a campaign rally on the White House lawn. This is a clear violation of the Hatch act. This is against the law.
Many of the people that have surrounded Trump for the last 36 months have been arrested and thrown in jail for different violations of… the law. It seems a little far-fetched to say that you are the law and order president when you and your cronies are constantly breaking the law.
A friend of mine just rejoined the Facebook community. He had taken some time away from Facebook because he found the whole thing to be overwhelming or ridiculous or both. He posted a long rant in which he stated that we all needed to get along, that the country should have never shut down for the coronavirus, and that systemic racism doesn’t exist in the United States. This is a man who is highly educated. We went to high school together. How could he have gotten it so wrong?
When you think about it, he has no choice but to get it wrong. He is a phenomenally successful White man. If he were to admit that there was systemic racism, he would be pointing the finger at America—but also at himself. He is in a position of power. He is rich. He is successful. His whole worldview would begin to crumble if he thought there was something to the notion of White privilege.
Because he is a businessman, he sees the world through the lens of business. In his world, the coronavirus was a huge inconvenience. The coronavirus put a huge dent in the business environment. Some businesses could not stay open during the lockdown and closed their doors for good. Other businesses had to lay off workers. And still others took a huge financial hit.
Although I can see his point of view, I do not agree with it. Americans must be more than numbers on a profit-and-loss sheet. We are human beings. Over 6 million of us have contracted the coronavirus. There have been over 370,000 hospitalizations secondary to this virus. There have been more than 190,000 deaths.
We must look at the coronavirus is a huge failure of our government, our society. As for my friend, he is lost. He has to find a way to come to terms with America as it is and not America as he wishes it to be.
The good news is that laws that mandate wearing masks have helped flatten the curve again in Texas, Florida, and Arizona. Sadly, all this death and misery could have been avoided. We needed bold, evidence-based action early in December 2019 or January 2020. We needed a complete travel ban under which everyone coming into the US is screened and quarantined for two weeks. We needed to rapidly build facilities to house those who are quarantined. Allow Americans to quarantine at their homes. Test everyone who entered the US.
This approach would have saved lives. It would have stopped the coronavirus at the border, but Trump decided that such measures were nuts. And, according to a new book by famed investigative reporter Bob Woodward (exposer of Watergate under Nixon), Trump knew all this back in January! (Is anyone surprised that Trump was informed and decided against doing the hard work of protecting American lives?) But he chose to lie about the coronavirus for six months, putting on “a happy face,” so as not to hurt the economy or cause “panic.” He deliberately sacrificed tens of thousands, or 100,000 or more, American lives to get reelected.
We need a president who understands the challenges that we face. Coronavirus. Systemic racism and sexism. Natural disasters. Climate change. Wage inequality. We need Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Are they perfect? No! But are they good human beings who fight hard for all Americans, yes! It is that simple. Vote!!!
Can you imagine there was a time in the United States in which women were expected to be seen and not heard? Susan B. Anthony is the woman everyone thinks of when we think of women’s suffrage (what a weird word, suffrage). Ms. Anthony was an activist. She traveled the country and gave speeches to motivate Americans on a woman’s right to vote. She registered to vote and cast a ballot in the 1872 election—and she was arrested for this “crime.”
During her trial, the judge would not allow Ms. Anthony to speak on her own behalf. She did give speeches around Monroe County, New York during her trial. She said, “I stand before you tonight a convicted criminal… convicted by a Supreme Court Judge… and sentenced to pay $100 fine and costs. For what? For asserting my right to representation in a government, based upon the one idea of the right of every person governed to participate in that government. This is the result at the close of 100 years of this government, that I, a native born American citizen, am found guilty of neither lunacy nor idiocy, but of a crime—simply because I exercised our right to vote.” The 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, 14 years after her death.
We need more Susan B Anthonys. We need more Americans who want to make the United States a more equal and just society.