Saturday afternoon, a rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral taking 2 U.S. astronauts into space from U.S. soil for the first time in nine years.
Liftoff was beautiful, and the launch was exhilarating. A moment for national happiness and pride.
Simultaneously and sadly, throughout the nation, demonstrators were in the streets—some committing acts of violence—protesting the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a criminal police officer who should have been imprisoned a decade ago. Welcome back to the 1960’s.
Sadly, we have a culture in this country of not holding police accountable for the murders of African American, Latinos, or Native Americans.
What follows is very personal. I do not intend this to be about me, but about what WE (meaning whites/Anglos/gringos) must do. If we do not, the words of Barry Maguire’s song, “The Eve of Destruction” may ring far more true today than they did in 1965.
I remember Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C. I had just graduated from high school in Atlanta, Georgia, and wanted to go to D.C. to march and hear Dr. King speak. My parents would not allow that. They weren’t racists. My father said to me many times, “Son, the Black man never has been given a fair chance.” They were afraid of the KKK.
When I was ten, I began working in the fields in summer with African American children and adults. I saw the difference in the way white farmers treated whites and African Americans working for them. For one, I was paid more even though the African American children I worked with were far more experienced and far more productive than me. That was my second lesson in white privilege.
My first lesson occurred when I was in the 4th grade, one cold drizzly early December afternoon in Americus, Georgia. I belonged to an organization that met Fridays after school. With the meeting over, and walking to my mother waiting the car, I saw two African American boys walking down the sidewalk. One was about my age and the other probably was six or seven. They were wearing shirts; no jacket or raincoat even though it was raining; shoes, no socks. They were soaking wet. I, of course, had on my yellow raincoat with hood—toasty warm and dry.
The youngest child looked wistfully at my school. An African American neighborhood was two blocks away. He said to his brother, I wish we could go to this school so we did not have to walk so far—from their home to their school, three miles, in the cold rain with no coats, no socks, no busses; three miles. Hurts to this day.
I remembered those two boys as I listened to Dr. King say, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” (Washington, D.C., 28 August 1963) Fifty-seven years later, George Floyd is murdered by a criminal cop and three accessories to his murder. So much for Dr. King’s dream, and mine, and the dreams of many, many people of all ethnicities in our country.
Three years after Dr. King’s speech, in August, 1965, the Watts Riot came as a huge shock to me and to the nation. Most of my mother’s family lived in Los Angeles, and we were worried about their safety. I remember news footage of .50 caliber machine guns mounted on jeeps. Surely, I thought, we will learn from this. Surely we will make changes. Such is the optimism and idealism of a young southern boy in college.
Sadly, Watts was a harbinger of things to come: Newark, July 1967; Detroit, July 1967. Then, the assassinations of Dr. King (4 April 1968) and Bobby Kennedy (6 June 1968). These, of course, were only five of the dozens of horrible events occurring in the 1960’s (obviously including, the assassination President Kennedy—22 November 1963).
To my parents’ dismay and fear, I went to a demonstration in Atlanta when Dr. King was assassinated. On the way there, I was stopped by Atlanta police. They were not happy I was going to the demonstration. Although they were very disrespectful and tried to intimidate me, I was not detained, nor was I murdered—white privilege strikes again. At the demonstration, there were few white faces. Those of us who were there were welcomed by our African American brothers and sisters. The demonstration went long into the night, but there was almost no violence as demonstrators honored the non-violence teachings of Dr. King.
Seven years after the 1974 Detroit riot, I was in Detroit, and drove to the riot area. It was heart breaking and painful to see the many scars from the riots. Entire city blocks had been leveled and gone to weed. So little had been done to repair the damage. I parked my car and walked through the area for 30 or 40 minutes. Many homes had not been destroyed where African Americans still lived. Some sat on the porch in the warm summer afternoon. Few people were walking around.
The lone white man walking through the area drew curious looks. No one spoke to me, but there were no hostile looks either. I wanted to talk with some residents, but I felt it would be disrespectful. I suspected many curious people had been through there often asking inappropriate questions.
My efforts for the civil rights of African Americans and Mexican Americans, for women’s rights, to end senseless wars of imperial aggression have spanned 60 years. I have met Jesse Jackson multiple times, marched with Andrew Young, worked for Maynard Jackson (the first African American Mayor of Atlanta), worked with a few Black Berets, marched with the Brown Berets and with Caesar Chavez. I think back at the literally thousands of people I have worked/demonstrated with as I look at what is happening today. I am disheartened the efforts of so many have produced such meager results. I feel like Schindler at the end of “Schindler’s List”.
I listen to elected and law enforcement officials in Minnesota as they toss word salads. Their words mean nothing to me. I suspect part of the continuing rage in Minneapolis and throughout the nation is those words mean nothing to those hurt and enraged by the murder of Mr. Floyd and the continued plague of racism that is even more deadly than COVID-19. I want to believe they mean well. But I have heard those word salads before—after Watts, after Newark, after Detroit, after numerous other racist debacles.
As a former colleague and friend frequently says, “talk is cheap.” Talk IS cheap. Unless backed up by deed, it means ZERO. In Viet Nam, we had a saying about talking the talk and walking the walk. Only those soldiers who walked the walk were respected when they talked the talk. I honestly do not know whether I have walked the walk sufficiently to have any respect from my African American and Latino brothers and sisters.
But this I know. We are LONG PAST the time when talk is enough. If these public officials are serious, they need to walk the walk. Public officials throughout the nation need to start walking the walk
One place to start is racist cops. I am convinced they are a minority of every police force in the nation. Unfortunately, non-racist police tolerate them rather than purge them from their ranks. Their presence gives every police officer a bad name. Tolerance of racist cops make non-racist police tacit accomplices in the crimes of racist cops. Non-racist police need to understand that and determine themselves to tolerate racist cops no more.
Unfortunately, when racist cops murder African Americans or Latinos, prosecutors often refuse to bring charges. If they take a case to a grand jury, they do not actually to get an indictment. George Floyd probably would be alive today if Derek Chauvin had been prosecuted for his previous crimes while a police officer. He would be in prison where he belongs. These prosecutors need to be removed and replaced with prosecutors who see police misconduct as a crime against the community police officers and prosecutors have sworn to serve and protect. To borrow from Lord Acton, public servants who betray the public trust and their sacred responsibilities to the public “should be hung double high. Once for not being good, and twice for pretending to be better than“ they are.
Racism is NOT an African American problem, or the problem of any other minority. It is a WHITE problem. Whites created this problem 500 years ago. Only whites can solve this problem our ancestors created. For 500 years, we/whites have done close to nothing. It is time. It is LONG PAST TIME we stop sitting around, tossing word salads about how unfortunate it is minorities are treated wrongfully in this country. It is TIME for us to get up, get out in the streets, get into the voting booths, make sacrifices for our minority brothers and sisters; time to create a society where “liberty and justice for all” ceases to be hollow words, and rings true for everyone.
It is time we establish a more egalitarian society.
It is time to tell bigoted, racist, criminal police we are not stopping until they are purged from every police department in this country, and some of them are in prison where they belong.
Our ancestor created this mess. We have tolerated it for far too long. Now we MUST clean this mess up once and for all. IT IS PAST TIME!!!
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column shows its author, Samuel Freeman with a brother on active duty, stationed in Germany. Freeman met the Army Captain in Nuremberg, Germany, at Hitler’s parade ground not far from the Palace of Justice where Nazi war criminals were tried.
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