ABOVE: As police shootings of Black people mount, Attorney General Jeff Sessions says federal investigations of local police departments are bad for police morale. FILE PHOTO: Paulette Singleton/Trice Edney News Wire
Top legislators are calling for decreased public hostile speech after the shootings of House Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise and four others at a baseball practice game of GOP players. No problem with toning down the inflammatory rhetoric, but nice talk alone will not beat down the GOP regressive policies assaulting the health, welfare and safety of African Americans.
Silence in the hope that things will get better is wishful thinking and violence throws gasoline on the fire. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We either learn to live together as brothers or die together as fools.”
It was militant direct action of the King movement which helped defeat some of the most repressive policies of our era, from voting rights barriers to discriminatory policies in public institutions and the federal government.
It is difficult to count all the reasons that could drive many into the streets for a long, hot summer.
At the top are recent incidents such as the acquittal of a police officer who fatally shot Philando Castile in a suburb of St. Paul, as he reportedly reached in the glove compartment to show police his firearm license. At least 2,000 people gathered at the Minnesota State Capitol to protest the verdict. Eighteen people were arrested in what was an overall peaceful demonstration. Yet, it is easy to see how quickly things could flip when you see the newly appointed Atty. General Jeff Sessions, unlike Atty. General Eric Holder of the Obama Administration, turn a blind eye to police violence.
On March 31, Sessions ordered a review of the Justice Department’s approach to policing, asserting that “it is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies.” Moreover, in his confirmation hearing, he said federal investigations of police departments were bad for “morale.”
Sessions’ retreat from federal intervention in police shootings of unarmed Black men comes at a time when data shows he should be moving full-speed ahead. Police killed at least 102 unarmed Black people in 2015, nearly twice each week. In fact, 37 percent of unarmed people killed by police were Black in 2015; despite Black people being only 13 percent of the U.S. population.
Unarmed Black people were killed at five times the rate of unarmed Whites in 2015 and only 10 of the 102 cases in 2015 where an unarmed Black person was killed by police resulted in officer(s) being charged with a crime, according to a Mapping Police Violence report.
Police violence is not the only hot concern. Fears are heightened by reports of deep cuts coming in Medicaid, Food Stamps and access to health care as the result of the president’s tax reforms and destruction of the Affordable Care Act. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency is retreating from limiting the amounts of toxins corporations can release into land and waterways. Studies consistently show that it is the non-White underclass who suffers most from diseases caused by pollution because they lack the clout to force air quality compliance from polluters, which means the ongoing water poisoning of Flint, Mich. homes will become just one of many.
With so much to lose, silence sounds like thunderous approval and violent protests like the slaughter of the innocent. Haven’t we seen enough scenes of Blacks burning down their own neighborhoods? And don’t we see how the feds have equipped local police department with militarized tanks, chemicals, grenade launchers and other weapons just waiting for deployment?
Everyone concerned about social justice should take a hard look at King’s principles of nonviolence, the backbone of the King movement, which were continually taught to thousands of law enforcement officials and gang leaders by Coretta Scott King after her husband’s murder. Nonviolent social change requires clarity of goals, coalition building, and long-term commitment, which is much different from today’s goals most often measured by crowd numbers rather than results.
Based on the actions of Mahatma Gandhi and the inspiration of Jesus Christ, King’s nonviolent methods have six principals. Briefly they are: information gathering of extensive data about the problem and the conflict on both sides; educating the community and stating clearly what needs to be changed and the strategy to do so; making a personal commitment to solving the problems non-violently and being non-confrontational during direct action; meeting with the opposition; discussing differences and trying to come to a win-win resolution.
If negotiations fail, then direct action which can take the form of economic withdrawal, such as boycotts, picketing, or marches. Ultimately, reconciliation of all parties is the intended goal.
Key to these principles is the philosophy of unconditional love that all parties must be treated with respect and hateful words or deeds are unacceptable. In an interview with Dr. King’s father, Dr. Martin Luther King Sr., in a reflection on the assassination of his son, he said, “No matter what happens, I will never stoop low enough to pick up hate.”
His wife, Alberta, Dr. King’s mother, was murdered on June 30, 1974, by a crazed gunman while she played the piano at Ebenezer Baptist Church, the family worship center. King Sr., who died of a heart attack 10 years later, still never picked up hate.
In the King movement, hate was not an option. But, neither were nice empty words, void of power-based action. When hate is removed from both sides of a conflict, then incidents like the shooting of innocent baseball players at a ballpark, would be a rare occurrence.
Dr. Barbara Reynolds is a columnist for the Trice Edney News Wire and author of the bestselling memoir of Coretta King, My Life, My Love, My Legacy.