In March, 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. and thousands of supporters — black and white — marched across the Edmund Pettus bridge to protest the inequality in civil rights perpetrated on minorities by an unjust system. This march was commemorated 50 years later by President Barack Obama, the first family, and other leaders on March 7, 2015.  The very next day, Sunday, March 8, 2015, a video surfaced of an all-white Oklahoma University fraternity jovially singing “There will never be a nigger at SAE…”. How far have we really come?

With all of the rioting broadcasted this past week in Baltimore, MD over the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody, I was surprised to see a lot of people perplexed as to why people would destroy their city by setting fires, smashing windows, and looting. I recall seeing a reporter throw her hands up in exasperation with what she was witnessing. While I understood her frustration, I didn’t understand her lack of empathy or judgement on the rioters. I thought “Really?!? You’re surprised this is happening?”

Between March 6 and April 12, 2016, four people in highly publicized cases have died at the hands of police: Tony Robinson,19, shot in WI; Walter Scott, 55, shot in the back while fleeing in S.C.; Freddie Gray, 25, suffered a severed spine and crushed larynx while in police custody; Eric Harris, 44, shot while fleeing after illegally selling firearms in Tulsa, Oklahoma (a city that once housed a thriving town of black businesses, deemed Black Wall Street in 1921, and was subsequently burned to the ground because someone claimed a black man was staring at a white woman in an elevator).  All of them, unarmed. What truly bothers me about Eric Harris’ case is what an officer was recorded saying,”F— your breath,” while Eric Harris lay dying, stating that he couldn’t breathe.

While some officers have been charged in a couple of the deaths listed above, we wait to see what happens with the others.

On April 22, Dante Sevin, a police officer, was found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Rekia Boyd, 22, because prosecutors failed to charge him correctly. It was stated by the judge that the charge of manslaughter requires “evidence of recklessness” and the judge believed there was intent to kill. So in other words, the judge believed the officer intended to kill and should have been charged with murder which made him not guilty of involuntary manslaughter. Wait, what?!

With the deaths listed above, the “not guilty” verdict for reasons incomprehensible and the recent past deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley and Aiyana Jones at the hands of police, is it any wonder that people are fed up, taking to the streets and rioting over their unheard or ignored cries for justice?

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Since the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan 1, 1863, black people (as well as many white people), have been fighting for civil rights and equality. Although some progress has been made, it appears to be dragging its feet. Systemic oppression through poor education, unemployment, racism and brutality in urban neighbourhoods are a part of the fuel used to ignite businesses and cars in Baltimore this week. Tupac said it best:

“If you know in this hotel room they have food every day and I knock on the door. Every day they open tha door to let me see tha party, let me see that they throwin’ salami, throwin’ food around telling me there’s no food. Every day. I’m standing outside tryin to sing my way in- “We are hungry, please let us in. We are hungry, please let us in.” After about a week tha song is gonna change to, “We hungry, we need some food.” After two, three weeks it’s like “Give me some of tha food! I’m breakin down tha door.” After a year it’s like, “I’m pickin’ the lock, comin’ through the door blastin.” It’s like, “I’m hungry.” You reached your level, you don’t want any more,” – Tupac.

This, I believe, sums up the attitude of many, particularly minorities: “We’ve knocked nicely, asked politely and have been ignored. Now we are going to fight for it!”

While I do not agree with rioting, I understand why it happens.  There are too many who pass judgement on rioters because they have not experienced methodical oppression in their neighborhood or lives. If they can’t see it, feel it or touch it, it doesn’t exist.

People are being murdered for petty crimes or no crime at all. They are dead, never to return. There is only so much one can take before they decide to fight back — by any means necessary — against the one who is holding a boot to their head. Although Martin Luther King Jr. chose to protest passively, make no mistake, he was a radical in his thinking when it came to civil rights and equality.

The current generation of disenfranchised youth have witnessed marches and riots from the past and also recognize not much has changed. Racism is just more carefully hidden and I assume they have decided, “no more! We will be heard!”

Those making judgements are focusing on the effects and not the cause(s). It is time to clear your “lens” and not ask, “how can they destroy their own city?” but “why are they doing this?” Dig deeper! Burying our heads in the sand will not make the elephant in the room go away. It will continue to grow and stifle us all!

Let me state, I know that the vast majority of police officers of all colors are great people, who care and put their lives on the line to protect and serve us. To some degree, I don’t blame the “bad” ones who choose not to use their own discretion in situations where escalation can be avoided.

Though they should be held accountable for their actions, I blame government policies and training with superiors passing down a legacy of hatred and distrust for minorities. I blame the militarization of the police force. It is up to all people including police officers to speak out against injustice of any kind.

Yes, it is a shame that people have to resort to violence and mayhem to be heard, but unfortunately this is one way and a very effective one, to make the masses wake up, open their eyes and take notice. We have to recognize there is a problem in order to fix it.

Until interplanetary travel is a reality or until the Second Coming, we are all stuck here. Why not work together, every different hue of the only race — the human race — and make this the best experience for all?

Tracy Lawson ?
©2014 Tracy Lawson Inc.