Sunday, August 25, 2013

Superior Dignity

50 years ago this week, hundreds of thousands of American citizens descended on The Mall in Washington DC to march for jobs, justice and freedom. One of the organizers of the March on Washington was Asa Phillip Randolph, the preeminent African-American labor leader of all time. 

This morning, on Meet The Press, David Brooks, the conservative New York Times columnist, praised Randolph for his "superior dignity" , not only in organizing such a march (Randolph's second such undertaking), but in the way Randolph handled the broader issues of social and economic equality. It reminded me how far away our current public policy dialogue has strayed from being dignified.

The Civil Rights Movement has been equated to the third American Revolution and the second Civil War in the annuals of US history. 58 years after Emmitt Till was murdered and Rosa Parks quietly defied segregation, America has transformed. Because of the movement, America is closer now to becoming that land of freedom and opportunity the Founding Fathers sought as they were defying the tyranny of a British king.

It was the dignity and sacrifice of Randolph, King, Young, Wilkins, Rustin, Evers, Hamer, Parks, Till and countless others that led to the success of that movement. While their dialogue and rhetoric at that time was revolutionary, controversial and discomforting to some, it was never disrespectful of the principles of public policy or the core values of this nation. It was a movement that respected individual dignity with the sole purpose of improving the general welfare of a nation. They successfully argued that both go hand in hand.

However, there are voices now, that were resonant then, that truly believe that America is strong solely based on the strength of individual liberty. You hear the stories all the time of how Americans pulled themselves out of the wretched grips of poverty. But one of the speakers at the 50th Commemoration of the March of Washington articulately conveyed the counter argument. He said a young man of color who has achieved a level of success told him that the movement had nothing to do with what was on his résumé. The speaker replied it was the movement that got you the right to have your résumé read.

The argument needs to continue, in a dignified way. There is merit in saying America is strong because of individual liberty. There is merit in saying that America is strong because of its commitment to promoting the general welfare. Both charges are spelled out in the Preamble. Those charges are the basic guidelines to shape public policy in the United States. Not belittling talking points, personal attacks or unwavering political partisanship.

It may give people personal satisfaction to have that zinger sound byte, but it does nothing to contribute to the positive discussion of the most pressing issues of our time. Not everybody that disagrees with me is a sellout or a racist. Not everybody that agrees with me is a degenerate or a heathen. There are intelligent people with superior dignity on both sides of any public policy debate. Unfortunately, superior dignity does not get a million YouTube hits or boost Nielsen ratings. That is a shame.

It is time to dispel the notion that civil discourse is a lost art. Now, more than ever, we need to be more civil as we have more ways to communicate our thoughts and research our opinions. It is time for dignity in public service to be displayed and rewarded. We have problems and challenges in America. We have glaring disparities in America. Those of us that want to discuss solutions in a civilized manner  are not unpatriotic or hopeless. On the contrary, it is unpatriotic to not discuss these issues. To believe in the notion that nothing can change or improve is hopelessness.

The personal goal of any public servant should be to have someone say that they passionately fought for the individual liberty of all Americans, that they constantly championed the promotion of the general welfare of the United States, and that they did it with a superior dignity that would make God and their fellow citizens proud. Thank you Mr. Randolph for leading by example and thank you Mr. Brooks for reminding us of it.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Why this is important

As I write this, only a few hours have passed since a jury of six women found George Zimmerman not guilty of the murder of Trayvon Martin. Many of us who followed the case from the very beginning thought at the very least Zimmerman would do time for manslaughter. However, the jury of six, felt that under Florida's stand your ground law, Zimmerman used deadly force properly to defend himself. As someone who was a co-sponsor of Mississippi's version of the Castle Doctrine, I strongly disagree.

If Trayvon Martin had followed George Zimmerman to his vehicle, attacked him and viciously beat him, then the Castle Doctrine could have been applied two ways. First, if Zimmerman saw him approaching, he could have defended himself by any means necessary, before any attack, on the presumption that his life was in danger. Second, if he was viciously attacked, he could have defended himself by any means necessary to stop that attack. That was not the case on that fateful night of February 26, 2012.

Zimmerman was the aggressor and as Trayvon was defending himself, Trayvon was shot and killed.

Call it racial profiling. Call it injustice. Call it whatever you want. In the end, a 17-year-old was gunned down in Sanford, Florida and the shooter was exonerated. All I could think about was my 11-year-old son in the next room, oblivious to the events transpiring, watching his favorite television shows on the Cartoon Network. How would I have reacted if that was my son gunned down? How am I going to explain to him why this happened? How can I, with the best of my ability, make sure that this does not happen to him when he is 17?

I may sound racially insensitive when I say this, but here it goes: it is a challenge to safely raise an African-American male child. Case in point, when I was a junior in high school, I came home down Morgan Street. On the corner of 81st and Morgan, a Chicago Police Department squad car was parked, blue lights flashing. In front of the car were two police officers, gunned down. What took place next was the most massive manhunt in the history of the city.

During that two-week stretch, every young black male was a suspect. Every traffic stop had multiple cars responding. African-American parents were constantly keeping track of their male children. All of us were on high alert and didn't travel alone. When the suspects were apprehended, the African-American community, sans the immediate family of the perpetrators, breathed a collective sigh of relief. It was then that I saw racial profiling first hand. It was not comfortable then, and despite this verdict, it is not comfortable now.

I saw the stress my parents tried to cover up. Now, it seems, it is my turn to stress. What is to stop someone from mistaking my son to be a potential criminal, especially someone who has the grand notion of being in law enforcement some day? As of today, the justice system that is suppose to bring balance to the society and sense to the laws of this land failed in the Seminole County Courthouse. Many will blame the majority white jurors, the prosecutors who brought forth the case, and according to one Twitter account,  even the President of the United States. I will put the blame solely on George Zimmerman, because the injustice happened even before the trigger was pulled on his Kel-Tec 9mm.

Zimmerman, in his zeal to be a relevant protector of his community, failed to use the discernment that is God-given and the proper judgement to back away until the real members of the Sanford Police Department arrived. He automatically assumed that this young African-American male named Trayvon Martin was a criminal linked to several break-ins in the area, based solely on his appearance and his teenaged meandering. Bottom line, he was Black so he was up to no-good.

All of us Black men have had the purse switch experience. All of us have been profiled. It is part of our experience in this society. However, it still does not make it acceptable, even if you are found not guilty of killing someone because of it. Listening to George Zimmerman's brother, Robert, after the verdict, it is painfully apparent that this practice runs deep, that it will take at least several generations to be purged and that the post-racial America people lauded after the election of President Obama has clearly not arrived.

For those who want to say that the system worked, I make the contention that the process worked. The case was presented, both sides made their arguments and the jury reached a verdict. But this system is a justice system and justice was not enacted on July 13, 2013. 

The death of Trayvon Martin was an unnecessary tragedy. However, the history of this country has shown that out of tragedy comes triumph. I pray that tradition continues and the justice many sought in the courtroom will find its place in the hearts and homes of the citizens of this nation. America, the country we choose to live in and constantly seek to perfect, needed a wake up call. This is it.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Jackson's wake up call

On April 4, 2013, at 5:40 pm, 45 years after The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was gunned down on a hotel balcony in Memphis, TN, a Jackson police officer named Eric Smith was gunned down in the line of duty. Smith was in the process of interrogating Jeremy Powell for the brutal murder of Christopher Alexander, when Powell somehow managed to take Smith's service weapon, shoot Smith four times and then turned the gun on himself. Smith, who was one of the best police officers the Jackson Police Department ever had, leaves behind a widow, also a member of JPD, and two sons.

The death of a law enforcement officer is always a tragedy, and in a community like ours, it is more profound. However, it is more resonant today because in exactly 30 days, the citizens of this city will elect a mayor and a city council to lead Jackson. The fact that this tragic act, which was precipitated by another tragic act, took place in the most secure building in this city highlights the most pressing issue confronting us: Safety.

Our police force is not comprised of Supermen and Wonder Women, but they are dedicated men and women that have taken an oath to serve and protect us. In 30 days, we need to elect leaders that will unleash their full potential. JPD is underfunded, which means that they are undermanned and lack all of the resources they need to truly effectuate change in our communities. Chief Rebecca Coleman has done all that she can do to maneuver around those obstacles and her leadership should be commended, as well as rewarded.

It is now up to us. I have offered myself up twice to help this city with its legislative agenda on a full time basis, to try and secure monies from the state to help. The current city administration has declined my assistance. While that effort has been rebuffed, my passion for this city has not and I will do the one thing no one can deny me and that is voting in this upcoming election. Each and everyone of us that is registered to vote in the City of Jackson, Mississippi has that same power. We also have to power to individually make our homes, neighborhoods and schools safer without totally depending on our police force, but a stronger, well-equipped, fully staffed force will make our efforts more permanent.

Eric Smith was dedicated to his job, his family and his community. We can honor him by doing the same thing. As citizens, no matter how frustrating it has become, we must remain dedicated to the uplift of Jackson. If there ever was a time for the people to show their commitment to this great place with even greater potential, May 7, 2013 is the time to show it. Rest in peace Officer Smith and may the God who surpasses all human understanding give the Smith family and the City of Jackson the peace and comfort needed during this time of bereavement.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

January 29, 2013

Two years ago, on this day I wrote about being at the lowest point in my life. Today, I can say this day is one of the toughest. As I write this, exactly 24 hours ago, I found out my mom had passed. Shock. Disbelief. Bewilderment. Grief. All of those emotions hit me at once with one devastating phone call.

I am glad to know that she loved me and that she knew I loved her in return. I am glad to know that she is no longer in any pain and that she has received her heavenly reward. I am proud to say that Joan Yvonne Charleston Fleming was my mom and I am thankful to her for being my portal to this great world of ours.

She was devoted as a mother, wife (of 49 years), grandmother, sister, daughter, public servant, alumnae, soror and Christian. She brought joy and compassion to those that were around her. She lived a fulfilling 72 years of life and she did it her way, the right way.

She will be missed but never forgotten. Love you, Mom. Now and always.