Mrs. Clinton, does Black Lives Matter to you?
Dear Mrs. Hillary Clinton,
Congratulations to you as by now you would have secured the nomination as the Democratic Party’s candidate for President of the United States of America and congratulations too on your selection of Tim Kaine as your “Running-Mate.”
I do have some concerns though with the place that America finds itself today, what with the Racist hate and misogynistic overtures of your Republican opponent and whither the direction of the country come November 2016.
August 28, 2016 marks the 61st anniversary of the murder of Emmett Till, a Black 14 year old native of Chicago, Illinois who was killed while visiting relatives in Mississippi in August 1955. According to reports, Emmett Till reportedly flirted with a White woman, Carolyn Bryant while visiting her family’s grocery store. The reports further stated that on August 28, 1955, (four days after the alleged flirting) Bryant’s husband Roy and his half brother J.W. Milliam, seized the 14 year old from his uncle’s house and beat him mercilessly before shooting him to death. They then bound his body with barbed wire, tying a 75 pound fan around his neck and dumped his body into the Tallahatchie River.
Consistent with what passed for justice then, Emmett Till’s killers were subsequently acquitted of the murder by an all white jury in a sham of a trial. His mother would recover the body of her dead son, unrecognizably disfigured by the brutality of the beating administered by his killers and used his funeral as a marker for demonstrating the callous brutality of American racial segregation.
As I read this story I could not help but feel that in a strange kind of way we are heading back into that kind of social environment in 2016.
I recall the second paragraph of the American Declaration of Independence which states: “ We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
As an immigrant to this country, I must confess that while these lines make for good altruistic reading, they represent the severest hypocrisy that a Nation can visit on sections of its own population as in the words of the late Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Those words represents a bad check issued to its Black population that has time and time again been sent back, dishonored by the Bank of Justice, stamped “Insufficient Funds” as there is no Justice in America for the Negro.”
Dr. King’s prophetic statement rang true then as it does today as the soil of America continues to be drenched in the blood of innocent unarmed Black men and women at the hands of predominantly White Law Enforcement officers through the unrelenting use of unnecessarily violent force to subdue them.
Black Civil Rights activists have always been in the cross-hairs of law enforcement officials whose efforts at suppressing these voices were seen as part of the maintenance of the Jim Crowe status quo particularly in the Southern United States where these Laws were meant to keep Blacks in check after the abolition of Slavery in 1866. For Whites, Black people were thought of as inferior beings and referred to as “Niggers” in order to drive home that point and if as a “nigger” you stepped out of line you could end up in the hands of a lynch mob. This was the fate that befell Emmett Till.
Historian Philip Dray wrote in his book “At the Hands of Persons Unknown- The Lynching of Black America” that one C.J. Miller was falsely accused of killing two teen-aged white sisters in western Kentucky and was “dragged through the streets to a crude platform of old barrel staves and other kindling,” His assailants hanged him from a telephone pole, and while “the first fall broke his neck … the body was repeatedly raised and lowered while the crowd peppered it with small-arms fire.” For two hours his corpse hung above the street, during which he was photographed and mutilated by onlookers. Finally, he was cut down and burned.
More savage was the lynching of Mary Turner and her unborn child, killed for protesting her husband’s murder. “Before a crowd that included women and children,” writes Dray, “Mary was stripped, hung upside down by the ankles, soaked with gasoline, and roasted to death. In the midst of this torment, a white man opened her swollen belly with a hunting knife and her infant fell to the ground, gave a cry, and was stomped to death.”
These lynchings weren’t just vigilante punishments or, as the Equal Justice Initiative notes, “celebratory acts of racial control and domination.” They were rituals. And specifically, they were rituals of Southern evangelicalism and its then-dogma of purity, literalism, and white supremacy. “Christianity was the primary lens through which most southerners conceptualized and made sense of suffering and death of any sort,” writes historian Amy Louise Wood in Lynching and Spectacle: Witnessing Racial Violence in America, 1890–1940. Lynch mobs were part of the accepted culture.
Emmett Tills’ murder in 1955 touched a nerve as it brought the Black experience to the consciousness of America. Four years later the trials of being Black in America was made public in John Edward Griffin’s seminal work “Black Like Me” where the White Texan writer disguised himself as a Black man and lived for months in the deep south in Alabama and Mississippi documenting the experiences as a Black Man.
The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was paid for in the blood of thousands of innocent Black men, women and children then and that price is still being exacted today by White Law Enforcement officers nationwide, many of whom it has been revealed are members of the long established Ku-Klux Klan who have merely removed their pillow-case hoods and are ensconced in police departments across the country. It is these reasons that provide validation for “Black Lives Matter” protestors that Blacks are disproportionately targeted. If that state of affairs is not bad enough, what is even worse is that successful prosecution of police for wrongful death or even excessive use of force is quite paltry in America, given the way in which the Laws governing the various State police divisions are structured which almost guarantees that no one will pay for these atrocities.
It does not help though that in 2015 US police killed 1,134 young Black men in their encounters, a rate that is five times higher than in their encounters with young white men in the same age group. What makes the disproportion more frightening is that Blacks represent only 12 percent of the US population and empirical evidence has shown that in similar encounters with Whites, the police’s approaches are dramatically less edgy and less prone to the unbridled use of deadly force. Beyond that, coverage of police encounters with Black young men portrays the dead or injured Black youth as “guilty” and having to prove their innocence even when they have done nothing wrong in the first place.
As President, Mrs. Clinton, what are your plans to set America on a path that will provide tangible support for Black American lives given the unrelenting attacks against these Americans by Federal and State Law Enforcement officers? How will a Clinton Administration work to de-escalate tensions between Blacks and Whites especially at the Law Enforcement level, and how will your administration see to the de-militarization of the police? Beyond our votes Mrs. Clinton, does Black Lives Matter to you?
These are questions that concerns me as a Black immigrant citizen and parent of a young Black man and a voter, and for which the answer that you give will determine whether I go out and vote or stay home.
Richard Hugh Blackford
Jamaica-born Richard High Blackford is a social commentator and Fine Artist ( specializing in oil paintings) and the owner of Yardabraawd International LLC, operators of Yardabraawd Gallery in Sunrise, Florida.