By Dr. Kwame Nantambu
June 07, 2020
Ever since they were brought involuntarily and violently from Mother Africa in 1619 to be enslaved on plantations in the United States, enslaved Africans and their descendants have been the victims of Code Noir, Jim Crow laws, Lynch Laws, Ku Klux Klan, the infamous “Three Fifths Clause”, “Grandfather Clause”. Racial segregation, institutionalized racism, “selective prosecution”, racial profiling, “Stand your Ground” law, just to highlight a few injustices.
Indeed, as chattel slaves, they were treated as the sole “property” of their white slave-master. They were never regarded and/or treated as human beings —far less equal.
However, prior to the abolition of slavery in the united States, on 18 December 1865 per the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution, one major, historical significant milestone occurred that has very vicious detrimental repercussions in terms of race relations in the United States today.
And that historic event, albeit legal decision, took place on 6 March 1857 during the Dred Scott v. Sanford case. In this specific landmark decision, the US Supreme Court under Chief Justice Roger Taney ruled that “all people of African descent, free or slave, were not United States citizens and therefore had no right to sue in federal court.” Chief Justice Taney further amplified his decision by stating that “the Fifth Amendment protected slave owner rights because slaves were their legal property.”
In other words, in non-legal jargon, Chief Justice Taney declared that “the Black man has no rights which the White man is bound to respect.” That white mind-set was alive in 1857; it is still alive in 2020.
The other major racially-oriented US Supreme Court landmark decision is the 1896 Plessy v. Fergusson case.
By way of background, Plessy “was arrested for riding in the white section of the railway coach while on a sixty-mile stretch from New Orleans to Covington, Louisiana. His refusal to sit in the Jim Crow section was illegal under Louisiana Law, which required “equal but separate accommodations for the white and colored races in public facilities.”
In this “separate but equal case”, the US Supreme Court decreed that “the action brought by Plessy was under the provision of the Fourteenth Amendment, which required… only that separate accommodations be equal.” The Court had already “sanctioned segregation as the law of the land. This law remained in force for fifty-eight years until 1954.”
Indeed, 1954 saw another landmark milestone decision by the US Supreme Court in the field of education. This decision rendered on 17 May 1954, fell under the jurisdiction of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas whereby the US Supreme Court ruled that “separate but equal doctrine is invalid (and) segregated schools unconstitutional.”
Put another way, this decision points to the salient fact that “separate but equal doctrine…has no place in the field of public education.”
From then on, racial tension and downright hatred against African-Americans reared its ugly head. And it all began on 28 August 1955, when a 14-year-old African-American boy named Emmett Louis Till was brutally and inhumanely lynched in Mississippi “accused of offending a white woman in her family’s grocery store.”
But the racist violence against innocent, unarmed African-American men didn’t stop there.
On 4 April 1968, non-violent leader of the Civil Rights Movement Dr. Martin Luther King, jr, was also brutally and inhumanely assassinated because he had a dream for all Americans. Dr. King adamantly and vociferously proclaimed : “We are in America and we are in America to stay.”
Fast forward to today’s racist reality in America, the record is very clear in terms of the shootings and killing of innocent, unarmed African-American men by white police officers who for the most part, walk free after their trial.
The list includes : Trayvon Martin 2012; Ezell Ford, Tamir Rice, Laquan Mc Donald, Eric Garner and Michael Brown 2014; Jamar Clark, Redel Jones and Kenney Watkins 2015; Philando Castile 2016; Botham Jean and Stephen Clark 2018; Dreasjon “Sean” Reed, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd 2020.
Indeed, it is very interesting to note and observe that there was absolutely NO representative from President Donald John Trump’s White House at George Floyd’s funeral services.
At this juncture, there seems to be some confusion and/or misunderstanding of the legitimacy of the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Now, let’s be very clear. In this imperfect world in which we all live, all lives do matter. There is no problem with that general notion on conventional wisdom. However, the human reality on the ground is that as far as white police officers in the United States are concerned right here and now— certain lives matter and certain lives just DO NOT.
The salient fact of the matter is that white police officers are only shooting and killing unarmed, innocent African-American men; they are NOT shooting and killing unarmed, innocent White-American men. Ipso facto, Black lives must matter under these real human circumstances and situations.
Indeed, what white majority America needs to understand very clearly is that today African-Americans are no longer giving up their democratic seat to a white person a la Plessy or Rosa Parks— those days are long gone. African-Americans are just “sick and tired of being sick and tired”; ergo, they are now prepared and more resilient to stand up against unjust racist police brutality and an overtly biased criminal justice system. Passive resistance has now given way to present non-violent, active, “in-your-face” protest action.
The modus operandi now is : “We are fired up; we can’t take no more; take that white racist knee from our necks.” “How long?”— NOT eight minutes and forty-six seconds.
It must be clearly understood that while White Americans have unfortunately lost their jobs as a direct result of the invisible COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic; on the other hand, African-Americans still continue to lose their lives as a direct result of the ever continuing and exponential increase in the visible pandemic of white police untouched brutality.
In the final analysis, America and the System must recognize and accept the truism that the public protests engaged in by We the People of ALL races, ethnicities, religions, socio-economic status, cultures are NOT about civil-voting rights— we got that; they are NOT about eating at food counters or using restrooms—we got that; they are NOT about women’s rights— we got that.
These public protests are about demanding and getting genuine equal Human Rights for ALL Americans. That’s what they are all about and it need occasion no great surprise that this African-American Human Rights protest demand has triggered massive spontaneous /simultaneous actions across the globe.
Truth Be Told: African-Americans just want America to live up to its independence creed as eloquently enunciated by Abraham Lincoln to the extent that: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among them are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
“No justice, NO peace”. His name is George Floyd.
Dr. Kwame Nantambu is Professor Emeritus Kent State University, USA.