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Systemic Racism: Then and Now

Once peonage had been instilled in the south, allowing for the intentional incarceration of Blacks and forcing them into “legal slavery” per the loophole in the 13th Amendment of the Constitution, the north was now conditioned into believing Blacks were a threat to society. This is a label that has remained to this day and has all too often become a part of the identity of the Black community by the larger society.

At the same time, thanks to the industrial revolution, jobs became available for those who managed to survive the migration north without being lynched, arrested or killed. These jobs were low paying but did, at least, provide a way for recently freed Blacks and/or their descendants to finally make a living. These wages, of course, only allowed for modest living. Hence, legitimate wage earners found themselves forced to live in areas redlined for Blacks only. Because of this redlining, Blacks were forced into certain areas of the city, to live in overcrowded, poorly kept, high rise apartment buildings. Local governments denied funding for most businesses in this area, except for fast food restaurants and liquor stores. Since there were little to no single family homes in many of these areas to yield property taxes for schools, and no businesses to allow the communities to flourish, schools were left with scant resources to provide the community with a decent education. Again, situations that exist to this day.

These circumstances were often conducive to criminal behavior, some for survival and others out of sheer frustration and anger. Nonetheless, even those struggling to find a way out of no way were all too often tagged with the same criminal label as those guilty of crimes. Hence, arrests of the Black man (and often the Black woman), became rampant. A Black man was deemed guilty whether guilty or not because of the color of his skin and the environment in which he lived. This is not to say that Black men who made it out of the ghetto did not bear the same label and fate. An image of poor, lazy, worthless individuals was attached to the Black community in general. Many began to rationalize that Blacks were poor because they didn’t try hard enough or were intellectually inferior (based on “bootleg scientists’ theories”), in an effort to explain away the slow educational advancement and the alleged propensity for crime.

Given these circumstances, the Black community was ripe for harassment by law enforcement. When crimes were committed In the Black community, police were often slow to respond, even when the threat of life or death loomed over the residents. When they did respond, they were quick to make arrests, often with little to no proof of the guilt or innocence of the arrestee. Life in the ghetto was deemed expendable and unworthy of dedicated law enforcement time and attention to facts. Police had little to no tolerance for the minutest of crimes. An image had been baked into the mindset of society in general and Blacks had the insurmountable task of overcoming this image. For some, this proved impossible.

To this day, Blacks are all too often stopped and harassed by police for anything ranging from no reason to minor infractions of the law. In many instances, the stops result in unnecessary fines and court cases that never had to be. In other instances, they result in death. Many have heard of the case of Eric Gardner, tracked down by the police for selling loose cigarettes, a misdemeanor crime in New York. Yet, when apprehended, even though several officers had him on the ground, face down with officers leaning on his back, other officers continued to choke him. Despite his pleas of not being able to breathe, they continued to choke him… until he could breathe no more. Even though all of this was caught on camera, the officers were never held accountable. Why? Black lives in the ghetto are expendable. Blacks, after all, were deemed criminals by nature and their lives were deemed worthless. No one saw the need for these officers to do what they were supposedly trained to do: make arrests and let the courts decide the fate of the perpetrator. In this instance, as in many others, it’s okay for police to act as arresting officer, judge, jury and executioner. One TV commentator even said Eric Gardner was, after all, guilty of committing a crime, as though that justified his murder!

This mentality, unfortunately, is embedded in the minds of so many Americans. An officer is excused when he/she kills a Black person who committed a crime, no matter how minor the crime. This scene has played out over and over again, sometimes caught on camera and sometimes not. Yet, it continues to this day. Society finally became outraged when it was done to George Floyd, noting the audacity of the arresting officer who comfortably placed his knee and body weight on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds while casually holding his hand in his pocket, knowing he was being filmed. He had no concern about killing this man for all of America and the world to see. Why should he be concerned? His fellow officers across the country had done similar and other killings many times over without any redress. Why couldn’t he?! Finally, this outrageous behavior was put on trial and the officer was held accountable. This was a very unique outcome and probably in response to the massive outpouring of protests, by both the Black and white community. One would think this would slow things down a bit but it didn’t. Before the trial of the murdering officer, Derrick Chauvin, was over, another police shooting of an unarmed Black man happened in the exact same town, within 10 miles of the Chauvin trial.

It may seem the more things change, the more they remain the same. However, collectively, we have the power to make things change, permanently. Let’s open our minds and hearts to acknowledge the issues and commit to thinking about them in terms of resolution!

This will be my last blog post for a while. Perhaps it will continue in the future if there is an interest in me doing so.

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