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Black History Month: What’s to Celebrate?

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Even though police continue to kill us in cold blood with impunity, some of us still rise to high positions in this country. This begs the question: Is the true measure of progress success for a few or equity for the masses?

By ANGELA JOHNSON


Black History Month 2021 seemed to pass me by with barely a whimper. Not because I’m not filled with pride that Kamala Harris is the second most powerful person in the U.S. — the first Black woman to serve as vice president.

Not that I don’t celebrate Barack and Michelle Obama and lift them up as beacons of achievement.

Black people have a robust roster of famous scholars, business pioneers, filmmakers, entertainers, actors, athletes and celebrities who are “evidence” there have been some wins for the race. But a hefty price has been paid by the masses despite the success of a relative few.

The 30th anniversary of Rodney King’s violent beating on March 3, 1991 by four LAPD officers, their acquittal of wrongdoing by a mostly white jury, and the ensuing 1992 L.A. Riots bring a barrage of hard questions to mind.

The memory of George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis policeman who knelt on his neck for nine minutes is still fresh. It makes me wonder what we have learned in the 30 years since the beating of Rodney King. Has anything improved for Black people in this country? Have we made any progress toward the elimination of violence against Black people at the hands of police who “feel” threatened by our very existence?

Some sign up ostensibly “to protect and to serve,” but their goal is to kill Black people. It is not clear if we have moved the needle toward equality even as midge, or if we are at a standstill.

It is possible that the accomplishments of our “shinning stars” have lulled us into a sense of complacency.

Floyd’s murder is juxtaposed against the success of Madame Vice President Kamala Harris. However, her victory is bittersweet because it seems like the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Black Americans are still fighting the same old stark disparities in housing, employment, education, health care, and practically every other aspect of life in the U.S.

There are a couple of obvious differences I see in the past 30 years, though.

In 1991, the four cops who beat down King did so in the dark with only their vehicle headlights beaming. The four officers who killed Floyd, including the one who knelt on his neck, saw people with their phones out and aimed at them, making snuff videos that went viral.

Instead of enduring a beating like Rodney King, today Black people in general are three times more likely to be killed by police than white people, according to mappingpoliceviolence. org.

The police watchdog website reported that between 2013 and 2020, 98.3% of killings by police did not result in officers being charged with a crime.

Thirty years later, white supremacists call themselves “white nationalists,” and Donald Trump is their president. A throng of proud nationalist marauders showed their faces and smiled for the camera when they stormed the nation’s capitol building on Jan. 6.

I don’t feel like celebrating Black History Month because of the wholesale murder of my people at the hands of modern-day slave patrols.

Americans should never forget the names of the fallen: George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Casey Goodson, Philando Castile, Breonna Taylor, Alton Sterling, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Rayshard Brooks, Elijah McClain, Jacob Blake, Tony McDade, Botham Jean, Stephon Clark and Michael Brown.

There are thousands of unnamed Black men, women and children who police killed in the 30 years since the Rodney King video went viral, and no one was there with a cell phone to record it.

Considering all of that, no, I do not feel like celebrating. But I do still have hope.

George Floyd’s murder sparked mostly peaceful protests across the nation demanding justice in the summer of 2020.

There were reports of burning and looting here and there, that were attributed to outside agitators who wanted to shift the focus from the legitimate reason for the protests–demanding justice for unarmed Black people killed by white police officers.

The Black male civil rights leader paradigm is extinct. That mold has been broken for many years, now. All respect is due to the civil rights leaders who gave their lives to the struggle for the past 30 years and beyond.

The shards of light I see cutting through the darkness at the end of the tunnel who give me life are Tamika Mallory, Benjamin Crump, Stacey Abrams (the Georgia voting rights activist who delivered the state to Joe Biden on a silver platter); Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Melina Abdullah, Black Lives Matter movement co- founders; Black and Latinx freshmen progressive members of the House of Representatives known as “The Squad,” Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Cori Bush, Jamaal Bowman and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. These are fearless speakers of truth to power. They are doing big things. Check for them.

NBC Nightly News’ Lester Holt interviewed Bryan Stevenson, social justice activist, founder/executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, and a law professor at New York University School of Law.

They talked about Black achievement and racial justice in America on Feb. 10.

Stevenson says until we understand the trauma, injury and harm done to Black people, we will not be able to fully celebrate Black achievement or success.

“We can’t look at Barack Obama’s election and say ‘Oh! Now we are post-racial,’” he said. “It’s so important to understand the nature of the problem . . . that there were two million people who died during the Middle Passage and their bodies are at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. And we’ve done nothing to acknowledge that.”

Only when the pain and blood that was paid is honestly acknowledged, and amends made, only then will real progress be achieved.

“If communities across this country say, ‘Never again will we tolerate white supremacy, racial violence, lynching, hatred and segregation,’” Stevenson said, “then we can get some place that we haven’t gotten to yet.”

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