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Civil Rights

Jun. 9, 2020

1877 + 1918 + 1929 + 1968 = 2020

Many of my white friends have called to express their disgust at what they are seeing and to see how I am doing. Often the conversation turns to what can be done. Many black people are tired of educating white folks about how we feel but after some thought, I have concluded that sharing my reality with others one way of breaking down barriers.

Paterson eva1 web

Eva J. Paterson

Co-Founder, Equal Justice Society

1877: Politics resulted in the removal of the power of the federal government from the traitorous Southern states meant to enforce the guarantees of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. Armed white supremacists were emboldened to kill Black people and to prevent them from voting.

1918: A deadly flu that originated in Kansas City but given the xenophobic name "the Spanish flu" ravaged our country. Ignorance allowed the flu to spread widely when attention to science could have prevented many deaths. In time, the flu stopped its deadly ravaging of the world.

1929: Economic disaster strikes the world. Americans are unemployed. Some extraordinarily rich well-connected Americans end up getting richer during this era. Government programs are enacted to help the country recover but black people and farmworkers are excluded.

1968: Police abuse of black people in cities around the country and the murder of the Dreamer, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., ignites the ever present powder keg that is the 400 years of white supremacy and systemic/structural racism that is called America's original sin although the Native people who were here before the Mayflower might disagree with that characterization.

2020: As Trevor Noah put it so brilliantly, we were all in our homes watching Amy Cooper weaponize her whiteness by calling the police on a black man birding in the Bramble in New York City's Central Park. On the same day, police officers murdered Mr. George Floyd in front of others while Mr. Floyd called out for his dead mother. These officers then lied about what transpired.

Providence resulted in a 17-year-old woman with a camera being there to film this murder. Soon all of America, trapped inside their homes because of COVID-19, saw this truly evil act. The NBA playoffs were not being televised so we could not be distracted. Baseball stadiums are closed. We cannot go out, so the eyes of the people confined around the world saw this embodiment of 400 years of terror practiced on the bodies of black people. No arrests were made.

The moment that just broke me was when the district attorney said he did not know if what he saw could be charged as a crime. Mr. Floyd was executed for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill. Now we have learned that Keith Ellison, the black attorney general of Minnesota, has enhanced the charges against the murderous officer and has charged the other three accomplices.

Life is strange. But for the virus, the nation's conscience might not have been collectively pricked by another example of police violence. One of the most uplifting aspects of this horror is to look out in the crowds in all cities around this country and indeed around the world and see all of humanity -- every race, ethnicity and nationality repulsed by the vicious treatment we have received since 1619. I have been heartened by the fact that in the face of tanks, armed members of the military, tear gas and unprovoked attacks from some police officers, people are willing to put their bodies on the line because #BlackLivesMatter.

Another interesting aspect of the current moment is that the majority of Americans side with the protesters and not the would-be strong man Donald Trump. There is also a robust discussion of white privilege and structural/systemic racism. People understand that the fundamental institutions of our democracy must be reformed or perhaps dismantled to undo the four centuries of bigotry, violence, indifference, and bias that are baked into the body politic.

After the Civil War, a form of reparation was instituted known as 40 acres and a mule. This was in recognition of the plain fact that so much of the nation's wealth was created by the back-breaking work of enslaved Africans and their descendants. The modern-day incarnation of reparations includes affirmative action. California is one of only eight states that has banned affirmative action. The voters may be given an opportunity to revisit that decision in November when the reinstatement of affirmative action is placed on the ballot through Assembly Constitutional Amendment No. 5 (ACA 5).

Finally, many of my white friends have called to express their disgust at what they are seeing and to see how I am doing. Often the conversation turns to what can be done. Many black people are tired of educating white folks about how we feel but after some thought, I have concluded that sharing my reality with others one way of breaking down barriers. I also have directed people who want to do transformative work to the Anti-Racism Guide for White People.

The Chinese word for "crisis" is composed of two characters -- danger and opportunity. Crisis describes the present moment.

We will be all right by and by. 

#358006

Ilan Isaacs

Associate Legal Editor
ilan_isaacs@dailyjournal.com

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