Even as we in Canada are hundreds of miles away, the objectionable odor of Black men being killed by the police services of the United States of America is choking us with its outrageous mix of racism and blatant injustice.
Whether or not police action is found to be excessive in any specific case, we cannot resist the condemnation appearing on a placard borne by a protester: “The whole damn system is guilty!”
We are fully aware that the relevant individuals and local authorities (municipal/county, state and federal) must be held accountable for their role in every case. But we also know that the whole system is broken in terms of the damage it does to Black people.
The evidence of the systemic and nation-wide injustice is overwhelming. Unarmed Black men are being killed by mostly white police officers. The policemen do not suffer any consequences for their deadly use of force. The judicial process of county prosecutors placing selected evidence before a grand jury, which then decides not to lay charges against the police, smells to high heaven.
The St. Louis County prosecutor publicly announced the grand jury’s decision in a presentation that emphasized almost exclusively the case for not charging the officer for killing of Michael Brown. The grand jury in New York City also refused to bring charges even though the medical examiner had concluded that Eric Garner’s death was due to choking and declared his death a homicide (unlawful killing).
That systemic racism and that blatant injustice are forcefully summed up, in all their relevance to the centuries of life in American society, by the comment made in 1964 by the Black non-violent activist Ella Baker:
“Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers’ sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother’s son, we who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens.”
President Barack Obama is very much aware that “Black lives matter”. What he does not recognize is that time also matters and time is not on America’s side in matters of race relations. They do not have time. What they have are dead Black males.
And now to solutions: Yes, there are options, even for a Democratic president facing a Congress in which both houses will soon be controlled by the Republicans. He will not have the legislative majority in his country as Prime Minister Harper has in Canada. But he must not make the same historic blunder that our prime minister is making by failing to lay the foundations for addressing the needs of our aboriginal peoples.
No! President Obama, you have a historic responsibility to lay the long-term foundations for addressing the racism and the socio-economic inequity that handicap minorities in the U.S. and therefore that handicap the progress of the American economy and its sustainable and equitably distributed growth and development.
Step one, Mr. President. Read the 1968 Kerner Report which was commissioned by President L. B. Johnson after the nation- wide race riots that rocked the U.S. in 1967. That report stated the race riots were the direct result of segregation, inadequate housing, poor access to quality education, systemic police violence, and labor market exclusion. It concluded that “white racism is essentially responsible” for those negative causal factors.
Our own conclusion, Mr. President, is that not enough progress has been made for a lapse of 45 years, for two generations of efforts.
Step two, Mr. President. Review the rationale applied in your executive action on the immigration file. Your intervention in favor of 4.7 million persons facing deportation is based on the doctrine of political and ethical responsibility. Address the police killings on the same basis with the sense of decency for which you are known.
The final, most important step, Mr. President. Take decisive action in the current and ongoing killing of Black men. This is not simply a matter of legacy, It is a matter of what is right. These murderers must be charged and tried now. Nothing less will do. No more speeches. Just action.
Yes, you can. Yes, you must. Yes, you will.