As an African-American I believe that I am particularly sensitive to the use of violence as a means of oppression against those deemed “different” or “less than” by the prevailing norms of society. The history of Blacks in America is marked by episodes of violence against us during slavery and the post-Reconstruction that spawned Jim Crow, and during the campaign of non-violent, passive resistance against segregation known as the civil rights movement. At each point in our history, Blacks have stood up against mob violence and by doing so served as a moral compass for our nation.
Sadly, it seems that some among us have lost their way and are betraying our history of moral clarity on the question of violence. We have never been the aggressor; choosing instead to defend only when provoked and attacked in most instances, and exercising self-restraint even under the most trying circumstances. The recent attack on a transgender woman at a McDonald’s restaurant in Baltimore County (an independent jurisdiction from the city of Baltimore) is just the most recent example of some Blacks resorting to barbaric behavior, and defying a history built upon lawfulness. The attack by two African-American women upon a defenseless white, transgender victim, captured on video by a McDonald’s employee, was a heinous hate crime and an act of extreme cowardice. Sadly, an 18 year-old has been charged in the restaurant attack and her accomplice is 14 years-old. To make matters worse, there were men in the suburban restaurant who witnessed the attack and stood by as the victim lay beaten on the floor and seemingly experiencing a seizure. Some of the bystanders were laughing. Those men should also be charged if their identities can be determined. The McDonald’s employee who taped the episode, and can be heard telling the two attackers to leave because the police were en route, has been fired.
This attack brings to mind the vicious beating of 16 year-old honors student Derrion Albert in Chicago. This bright and promising young man was beaten by a mob as he made his way home for no apparent reason other than his being available and seen as easy prey. In that case too, Black people stood by and watched as Albert was beaten to death. It seems that in the case of Chrissy Lee Polis, the victim in the McDonald’s attack, and Derrion Albert in Chicago, the motivating factor for their aggressors was that they were different. Polis was attacked because she is a transgender woman, and Albert, because he was a quiet and unassuming young man. It seems some of us have been infested with the same disease that poisoned the minds of many whites decades ago, and still harbors in the hearts of some who refuse to acknowledge our rightful claim to full citizenship.
It is the same type of disregard for life that we witness in the violence of gangs in our communities. When witnessing the carnage in our communities caused by gang violence, the lyrics of the 1980’s consciousness raising rap “Self Destruction” should put us all in check - “I never, ever ran from the Ku Klux Klan and I shouldn’t have to run from a Black man.” We seem to have raised a generation of young adults who have so little compassion and respect for humanity, that they, without hesitation, commit violent acts and serve as judge, jury and executioner in their own perverse courtroom where they determine who is worthy of living. While we have idly sat back and allowed this toxic environment to fester, its terror has been unleashed upon us. I have no doubt the attack on Chrissy Lee Polis was driven by the homophobia of her attackers; a troubling and parasitic trend that has developed in our community over the years. It is why the recent tirade by one of my favorite athletes, the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, carries such great weight. While he may have intended his use of a slur typically directed at gays as simply an expression of anger at an errant call by a referee, the history of the word - like that of the term nigger - demands that it be permanently placed in the delete file.
We are truly on a course for self-destruction if we embrace this type of behavior and deem it acceptable. Sooner or later it will devour our community, first in the countless victims who will die and the families that will experience the pain of losing them, and the perpetrators who will throw their lives away in the process, and second, in the moral and spiritual decay that will emasculate Black Americans. We did not overcome all that we have in America to embody the worst of human behavior.
Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.