today in black history

May 23, 2024

Actor and musician Benjamin Sherman "Scatman" Crothers was born on this date in 1910 in Terra Haute, Indiana.

Crying for Alton is Not Enough

POSTED: July 07, 2016, 7:00 am

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We’ve seen the scene so many times that we know the outcome before the video ends. It goes something like this – Black person is approached by police. Police claim person to have weapon. Black person protests being treated like a criminal. Police claim to feel threatened. Black person is attacked by the police. Police shoot person. Black person is dead. – and the officer(s) evade any responsibility for their criminal behavior.

Alton Sterling is the latest victim and the latest name we cry in anguish over their death at the hands of individuals we purportedly pay to ‘serve and protect.’ The problem as one youth pointed out in 1990 at the funeral of Phillip Pannell, a Black 15 year-old killed by a white police officer in suburban Teaneck New Jersey, is “who is protecting us from the police?” That question remains central to the Black experience in America in the 21st century. It is clear that there is an utter disregard, a resentfulness and contempt for Black life by the law enforcement community. It’s no longer acceptable to claim exemptions by stating that ‘all cops aren’t bad’ because it reduces legitimate Black anger to annoying whining. Law enforcement, policing to be accurate, is a menace to Black life in our nation.

While the video of Sterling being manhandled and shot multiple times by police is disturbing and causes us great emotional pain, crying is an insufficient response to this madness. Tears, while a legitimate human reaction, will not bring Sterling back, bring these officers to justice or make the police department in Baton Rouge accountable for police brutality. Likewise, politically correct patience will only provide a blanket of protection to police thuggery and give corruption a sense of security. Our anger is legitimate and our outrage appropriate against the utter disregard for our community by those who still see us as property.

There will be calls to let the legal process run its course. Of course, that’s a no-brainer. What we cannot do is simply go back to our regularly scheduled programming. Protest is appropriate and necessary. And we can be angry. Anger is not synonymous with violence but it is an expression of common sense. Blacks are repeatedly told to temper our anger when police abuse their power. Yet, in this nation the death of a gorilla or the mistreatment of dogs is deemed a national tragedy. What is clear in 2016 is that Black life is expendable and our death at the hands of police the cost/benefit of civic life in America. If we don’t get angry there is something clinical about our bended knees. The streets of Baton Rouge should be filled with outrage. The flow of commerce in the city should be interrupted. The halls of government should be occupied by a sea of angry Black faces. And it should be made known that until there is justice the new normal in the city is civic paralysis.

Black Americans have been gracious in our patience, decent in the suppression of our rage and near Christ-like in our forgiveness. We have gone out of our way to adhere to process and maintain civility in the face of the permissible demonization of blackness. We’ve lowered our fathers, mothers, sons and daughters and grandparents’ bullet riddled bodies into the ground, floated balloons and lifted doves to the sky and used every ounce of our spirituality to seek comfort in our grief. Our grace is taken as a weakness and our pain is used as comic relief by those who know our lives have no standing in this nation. Jobs are protected, pensions remain intact and a litany of excuses are offered rather than simply stating the obvious – Black lives don’t matter.

It’s time for a great reckoning in America and a great awakening among Black Americans. While we engage in asinine debates over which white presidential candidate deserves the right to serve us worse and Black elected officials atrophy in office, and we bury our children, and the Black church preaches a gospel of irrelevance, and we invest our money in our own demise, and we bury our children, and we watch our young slayed in the street with weapons of deathly intention and we bury our children – America rolls on unbothered by our suffering.

Here’s the plain truth. If we are serious about stopping this assault upon our humanity, really serious, there is going to have to be sacrifice and the abandonment of our comfort zones. Living comfortably Black in 2016 is either willful ignorance or suicide. Don’t cry for Alton. Just look at your child, niece or nephew, grandchild; look hard, imagine bullets piercing their flesh, blood flowing from their body and allow the pain his family is experiencing seep into your soul.

Walter Fields is Executive Editor of

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