Black, Brown, Cold Blue and an Ominous Shade of Gray

Michael Brown, Furguson, Missouri. Freddy Gray, Baltimore, Maryland. Small town and big city police, the men and women in blue. To serve and protect. Right. Even when there are riots, as in Baltimore yesterday. Who knows about today?

Mr.Brown and Mr.Gray are the seeming current catalysts for the increasing tensions between the African-American communities far and wide and the police, be they in Mayberry or major city, U.S.A. Now Baltimore, unfortunately, endures the dire consequences of “captured on video” and anecdotal testimony strongly suggesting the U.S. hasn’t gained much ground in the last 50 years since the civil rights movement, circa Martin Luther King and his non-violent resistance urgings. Maybe we’ve done away with Jim Crow and the “separate but equal” formalizing of racist governance, but here we are in 2015, with African-Americans in place as President, U.S. Attorney General, and most ironically, Mayor and Police Chief of Baltimore, bringing to mind the old snarky expression, “the more things change, the more they stay the same” as far as race relations go.

Given that it was 24 years ago when videotape evidence of L.A. police persistently beating senseless a defenseless Rodney King after a motor stop and car chase, with the ensuing acquittal of all the involved officers charged with assault with a deadly weapon and use of excessive force. What followed that verdict? Riots in streets. All breathlessly reported and documented as news helicopters gave the public a bird’s-eye view of one African-American community expressing its disapproval and disappointment with the so-called “justice system”.

King, who died in 2012 at age 47, famously said, Can’t we all just get along?”

Apparently not, as far as the “we” being black and having an encounter with the men and women in blue. “Driving while black” has been bourne as a derisive expression of the ease of justification with which, at times, an African-American is pulled over when behind the wheel.

Fast forward from King and that version of hand-held video technology to today and the ubiquitous possession of smart phones and you get footage of fifty year-old Walter Scott (African-American) being shot several times in the back as he runs from a police officer. Scott died. You can Google the entire list of armed Blues on unarmed Blacks and realize that these incidents have happened often and over a long period of time. How many acquittals for those police brought to court. How few even ever get charged? Again, just check the records on this matter.

Are all police racist? I am certain that’s not the case. Then again, where there’s smoke there’s fire, and a brush fire can spread fast when combustible material (as in circumstances) are present.  Sure, there are solid police personnel who take their job seriously and by the book. Then again, too many men and women may become police for the worst of reasons, far beyond the idea of “to serve and protect,” possibly resulting in a gun and a badge  corrupting one’s moral compass. If that’s the case, though, then why do police departments appear to justify the accusation of  a “blue wall of silence”?

Smoke and fire? Back to Baltimore. Peaceful protest? Maybe for a while, but not always for those who live in the ghettos;  then a spark, followed by a brush fire, followed by the mob mentality and a toxic purging of anger and angst kicks-in. Watts 1964. Detroit 1967. Most major U.S. cities saw rioting, burning and looting in 1968 when Martin Luther King was assassinated. Of course it’s tragic, and one would expect the mob to realize they are not doing themselves any favors. But that historical record of racism and bigotry that clings to our national past…and present. Hard to ignore it.

King, Martin Luther, 1968. King, Rodney, 1991. The more things change… Certainly there’s blame on both sides of our racial barriers. But this is a country founded by white men who owned black slaves.

Lincoln, Abe. Abolition. And complete “freedom” from the antecedents of slavery and racial divisions still persist as a work-in progress 150 years later

I have to admit that I am grateful to fate that I was born in the United States, even with all its current political warts and creepy creep to the right of Right, and that I was born white. And male. White privilege. It’s the subtext of our country’s national narrative. Check the records. But it’s no guarantee for all such as me. If so, my skin’s color didn’t stop my government from drafting my lily white ass into the military during the Vietnam conflict. A phony proxy war that I thought made no sense, but I raised my right hand, swore allegiance to Uncle Sam. I was very lucky. Here I am–still, 45 years later. Others not so. Tens of thousands of blacks, browns, whites never got out alive. Was it a racist war? Better Dead than Red, remember? But red only in ideology:  Mohammed Ali, expressing his courage and defiance ( the man had cajones ) at the time, said in refusing his draft induction for Vietnam, that he, a black man, wanted no part in fighting brown people in a white man’s war. Touche!

So, here we are. Freddie Gray, Micheal Brown and all the others, suffering a fatal encounter with the badge-wearing Blues,  and many of the incidents caught on video. No Blues behind bars. Freddy in the ground. Result: Baltimore burning, smoldering.

From MLK to Freddy Gray. They had dreams, for sure, not including to be gunned down or battered to death by police, or shot for their convictions. Dreams. Sure. We all dream of…

Hughes, Langston: what happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore–and then run?…maybe it just sags like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

About jharrin4

mass communication/speech instructor at College of DuPage and Triton College in suburban Chicago. Army veteran of the Viet Nam era.
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