i can’t breathe

“mama said there’d be days like this

there’d be days like this mama said”

today reminds me of the day after the ferguson decision. when white cops were once again absolved of murdering yet another unarmed black man. this is not a debate about the guilt or innocence of michael brown (accosted by police and subsequently shot 12 times for allegedly stealing cigarillos from a bodega); this is about the emotional tidal wave that has crashed over black families: mothers burying their sons; wives losing their husbands, children without fathers. the punishment seems to only fit the crime when it is meted out by police officers who gun down a teen over stolen cigarettes or by a public citizen who engages a teen in a fist fight and then murders the teen using the “stand your ground” law as his defense.

my sister shared an experience my 20-something nephew had with the police. he was racing to catch the bus to get to work; the police saw him literally running and stopped him because he fit a profile. beyond the fact he could’ve missed his bus and lost his job and then struggled to find another job and explain to the new employer why he left his past employer, there is the overarching element of racial profiling. a hoodie and a 6’2″ black male running equates to “person of interest?” now let’s consider the fear and anger boiling inside a young man and how this kindling has been sparked by an unwarranted stop by a police officer. he then has to ride the bus to work, perform his job, and ride the bus home with the shadow of the offense as his companion.

according to the washington post, from 2015 – 2019, black people represented 12% of the population, but 26.4% of murders at the hands of police. we can speculate til jesus comes the causality of the disproportionate murder rate relative to the percent of the population; privatization of prisons, mandatory minimums, racism are but a few of the usual suspects, but what we’ve witnessed in recent months suggests a correlation between the deaths and the absence of police reform. i know white america bristles at the “r” word, quick to accuse blacks of race baiting and searching in vain for a viable explanation of the data, but the data doesn’t lie; it reveals. 

i am reminded of the scene in do the right thing when radio raheem refuses to turn down his boom box and the white police officer chokes him to death. this escalation of violence by the officer sparked a riot and sal’s pizzeria was burned. that film is over 20 years old, but what has changed? the level of unchecked violence against black men (and women) has escalated with no response from the state or federal government or the court system. meanwhile, black children are growing up in homes without the presence of a father and the school to prison pipeline remains filled.

the attempts to relegate impoverished communities of color to the east side, south side, or other side of town is futile; the impact of poverty is pervasive. higher unemployment rates, lower test scores, white flight, lower property values, a glut of underemployed, and under-educated. the solution has always been clear: education leads to economic success, a shift from welfare reliance to self-reliance.  maintaining a base of poor people is the lubrication for a machine that is propelled by the underprivileged. poor people work low wage service jobs cleaning buildings, picking up trash, working in factories, hotels, and as healthcare workers.

we sit on the cusp of an election year, a mere 5 months away from four more years of ineptitude from the current white house occupant, or a passing of the tarnished and dented baton to biden to breathe life into a nation that has suffered from asthma since 45 took over. the nation can’t breathe, freddie gray couldn’t breathe, george floyd couldn’t breathe. we are drowning in a collective pool of blood from our sons, fathers, brothers, husbands. this is the time for the nation to rise up, to demand better and not stop until we get it. this is when we, black americans, tell biden what he must do to earn our vote. this is where we, black americans, pen the police reform bill and form the committees that biden will empower to cauterize the wound those charged to “protect and serve” have created. this is when we tell biden that the cost of black lives is not a burial at a funeral home but the cost to this nation is violence, poverty, unemployment, death, and destruction that will affect all communities.

sisters, the future is in our hands. what we need, expect, and must demand of biden is clear. no more marching, protesting, or writing letters. we’ve done that. now it’s time for joe and whoever he chooses as his veep to answer the call for reform in education, policing, healthcare, and funding for small and medium businesses. if joe wants this appointment, he must earn it and we must tell him how.

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