Seventeen-year old Trayvon Martin – not the Skittles and16-year old Michael Flournoy – not the Chips – had not lived long enough to crave out a place for his self in this world. Each had questions to ask, lessons to learn, mistakes to make, places to go, people to meet. They, in the words of a song had, “Only just begun.”.
A bag of Skittles and a bag of chips are, in the scheme of things, of little value but they will forever demand a space in our minds that they have no right to occupy. Each cost $1.00 more or less. Each was carried by a member of a group whose life in the eyes of society may not have been worth more than the last known item he purchased minutes before he was murdered.
The question about the worth of the life an African-American man in the United States has been answered by long-term quality of life disparities maintained through a system of discrimination. Most telling however is the relationship between African-American communities and criminal justice systems across the country. The incarceration statistics vary: 40% of the male prison population, one out of every three, over 800.000. Whatever the percentage or the numbers, they provide an answer to the question. An example of Chicago’s answer is the number of years Joe Burge, a former Chicago Police Lieutenant and his gang of thugs, whose reputation for torturing over one hundred African-American men to obtain false confessions rivaled that of any southern racist prior to the 1950s. And they did it under the Navy blue code of silence that could not have been maintained without other police officers and the expressed permission of at least some of Chicago’s political and community leaders of various ethnicities, genders, races, religions, sexual orientation, and any other categories you can think of.
While law enforcement’s response to the murder of Travyon was hard to swallow, it was no surprise. Nor was it surprising that people across the country of various ethnicities, genders, races, religions, sexual orientation, and any other categories you can think of took to the street, highways and airways to express their hurt and their anger.
You know what ought to be surprising but isn’t? It’s the number of times an African-American gets shot or shot and murdered in the African-American community by an African-American and the people who saw it enact a code of silence just like the other policemen, politicians and community leaders who were silent about Joe Burge and his gang of thugs.
It happened again April 5th. Michael Flournoy, according to media reports, went to the store to buy some Chip. There was an argument. Michael was shot in the head, in front of a church by someone in a car. I do not know how many people were there but unless everyone – young children, teens and adults – around the church, near the church, in the car, walking pass the car, hiding behind the car has advanced muscular degeneration in both eyes how is it possible that no one saw the shooter, even his Cousin?
Almost forty-eight hours has passed since Michael was murdered. As of this writing, it seems as if nobody had given the police any information. Nobody has turn his/herself in. So while Michael Flournoy’s parents and other family members are grieving a grief some of us cannot even imagine, our george Zimmerman is foot loss and fancy and maybe because the status that comes with being able to say, “I ain’t no rat. I ain’t no snitch. I ain’t no punk,” is worth more than the life of an African-American male who’d been living only 16 years.
I am not naïve. I know some people are afraid for their safety and that their fear is very real. Typical of cowards, they not only threaten retaliation but also have been known to retaliate. However, nobody is asking you to Facebook or YouTube or Tweet what you know. All Michael parents want is for their Son’s killer to be brought to justice. So call anonymously: 1-800-535 STOP or Text TXT@TIP. You don’t even have to leave your name.
I can hear you now. “Anonymous? You are crazy if you think they don’t know who you are….” Just call, ok. Do it for Michael. Do it for his Father. Do it for his Mother, who said, “This time I dropped the ball.” Don’t let her carry that. Call even if you just don’t like the po-lice.
When the police neglected to do its duty when George Zimmerman killed Trayvon, we organized and participated in Skittle marches, and Hoodie demonstrations. We traveled by bus and cars and plane to places far away to deliver a loud and consistent message that murdering an African-American teenager is unacceptable, intolerable, outrageous…
But, when the police were doing an on-the-spot-investigation of the murder of Michael, people did not have to go anywhere. They did not have to demand that the police arrest the murderer. All they had to do was tell. But as has been done too many times before, people brought stuffed animals and flowers and balloons and wrote R.I.P messages. They held hands and prayed. And as always, said how horrible it was while diminishing the horror by explaining that God’s will is being done and the murdered 16-year old is in a better place and those who are grieving his death, and from what I understand, those who killed him, will meet again in the sweet bye and bye. But nobody told on the shooter, not even his Cousin.
This makes me think there are some questions that need to be asked and answered. The ones I think of are: Does the silence say anything about who has the right to shoot and/ or kill an African-American?” Does the silence mean African-Americans are saying it is ok for African-Americans to stand their ground against other African-Americans? Is it a statement about how much we value the life of African-Americans, especially males? Or does it mean that our distrust of the police is so deep; we are not willing to give them information even if it means that our george zimmerman might get away with murder? I want to believe it is the later because I need to and because the other possibilities are too painful to consider. And, it makes sense given the history the Chicago Police create with African-American community.
We know that trust is earned slowly, is broken slowly and is restored even slower. Over the years, the Chicago Police Department, as a whole, worked hard to make sure it did not earn the trust of the African-American community. Therefore it is going to take more than two decades for the seeds of trust that are being planted in the form of Community Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) and other activities to take root.
Maybe a leopard never changes it stripes. Maybe the olive on the branch is rotten. I have lived quite a while but not long enough to be certain about the stripes or the olive. But here is what I do know. Something has to change. The silence has to be broken. The Chicago police, even the best of them, cannot stop the killings in our community without our cooperation.
I am not placing the burden of fixing the relationship between the African-American community and the Chicago police on our shoulders. Many of us have had one too many experiences where we have been asked to fix what white people broke and then have them look at us like we are absolutely nuts when we cannot fix it. But here is what we do have to consider: the consequence of the silence. Then we have to ask, “Is it worth the price?
When an African-American teenager is murdered, who did we as a community lose? We’ll know the name and the age and that he or she was an honor student and a good boy or girl. I am not talking about that? I am talking about the contributions each of these teens who are resting in peace much too soon (at least from my perspective) would have made to the betterment of the African-American community and the larger society had they lived long enough ask their questions, learn their lessons, make their mistakes, go places and meet people.