Forty years ago this month, ten thousand African Americans thronged to Gary, Indiana for the first National Black Political Convention. They gathered to develop a black agenda, and to influence 1972 presidential politics. One of the things on the agenda was the development of an independent black political party and to explore the notion of independent black politics. To commemorate this anniversary, Dr. Ron Daniels convened a group of people on Capitol Hill to see the movie, Nation Time, and to listen to a group of people, some of whom had been at Gary, talk about what Gary means today.
One of the things that was exciting about the film was the energy and audacity of the black folk who were gathered at Gary. There is a young Jesse Jackson leading the chant, "What time is it? It's nation time". There is a forceful Richard Hatcher, then mayor of Gary, explaining why the gathering was necessary. There is Imamu Baraka, calling for votes. There is Queen Mother Moore, speaking on the necessity for reparations. There is energy, audacity.
All weekend, there have been rallies in support for Trayvon Martin and his family, demands that George Zimmerman, the man who executed Trayvon, be arrested, and demands that Florida's vigilante laws be reviewed. Rev. Al Sharpton led some 30,000 people in a Florida rally, and the NAACP also plans a rally. As people rally to support Trayvon Martin and condemn Zimmerman, it is important to remember that this tragedy is one of several. Zimmerman, apparently, felt threatened by Skittles, iced tea, and a hoodie. How many other young black men have been executed in similar circumstances?
This Trayvon Martin case may have a galvanizing effect on African American people. Still, we have to ask what has happened to the audacity that was so clearly present in Gary four decades ago. Since then, too many of us have become satisfied and complacent. Too many are into "me" not "we". Even as African Americans continue to be battered by our economy, too many are blaming themselves, not our economic structure, for the situation they find themselves in. And we have been too tolerant of those who freely bandy about racial slurs. George Zimmerman apparently thought he could get away with a public execution. And, truth be told, to date he has. There has been no investigation, no arrest. All he had to say was that he acted in self-defense, and he was off scott free. No matter that the 911 operator told him not to pursue Trayvon. No matter that there is no evidence of self-defense. Trayvon Martin is dead and George Zimmerman is free. Where is our audacity?
George Zimmerman seems to think there are no consequences to executing a young black man on the public streets. He seems to think so because African American audacity has just about disappeared. Facing an organized African American community, Zimmerman might have thought twice between raising his gun and using it. Fearing an organized black community, Zimmerman might have thought twice before uttering a racial slur. No doubt, he has learned from the best. Rush Limbaugh pops off at the mouth any chance he gets, using racial and gender slurs and only recently suffering any consequences. Newt Gingrich calls President Obama a "food stamp president" and he is only mildly called on it. No wonder Zimmerman thought his effort was acceptable. Until now, he has had no evidence to the contrary.
It is easy to say, "black people need to be more organized", but it is difficult to do. Still, the Trayvon Martin case reminds us of the need for an organized African American movement. And Gary reminds us that once there was audacity. We have to find that audacity again so that no racist on the loose ever again feels it acceptable to execute a child on the street.
Dr. Julianne Malveaux is a noted economist and president of Bennett College for Women.