Street Protests Should End In Court

By Barney Blakeney

Tom Joyner or Steve Harvey, which morning show do you prefer? Me, I’m a Tom Joyner man. I’ve been listening to the early morning radio show for years. Steve Harvey’s show is alright, but I always have felt that the Tom Joyner Morning Show (TJMS) offers, as the host suggests, a “party with a purpose”. I like the news commentaries and the college scholarship awards.

I first heard of news commentator Shaun King on the TJMS. King is one of those young guns taking the stage as social activists. I hear his commentaries on the TJMS and I’ve seen some stuff he’s written. I’m impressed. I’m not easily impressed.

James Brown said it back in the day – some negroes are talkin’ loud and say nothing. A lot are talkin’ loud and doing nothing. There are a lot of young cats out here now who talk that yak. They’ve learned from my generation – you can make money and gain status talking about revolution and never actually have to revolt against anything. In fact, they perpetuate the status quo by keeping the conversation going, but never doing anything. I believe that’s a popular strategy of pseudo-civil rights activists.

I’ve got problems with people who have been in their respective slots 20, 30 years and can’t point to anything specific they’ve accomplished other than having held down a position and made a few dollars for themselves. They’ve held their spots for decades, but haven’t pushed the needle forward in terms of progress for our people – not one iota. But that’s a subject for another column.

I realize everyone’s got a role to play. Former S.C. State Senator Robert Ford taught me the importance of agitators. The agitator in your washing machine is what gets your clothes clean, he said. There are strategists and there are soldiers. We’ve got some young brothers in our community who are fantastic soldiers, but they are not good strategists. Some of them don’t even know there needs to be a strategy.

So it was interesting to hear Shaun King one morning speak about the need for collaborative efforts between protesters and strategists among new freedom fighters in our society. Or as us old school brothers and sisters sometimes say, there has to be a method to the madness. Protesting with no strategy toward a productive end game is just so much wasted energy. We should have learned that from past riots in places like Watts, Newark and Los Angeles.

The subject of the commentary I heard King present pointed to an evolved civil rights struggle that must encompass collaboration between protesters in the streets and litigants in the courts. I recently read two of King’s commentaries about actions that took place in the street which must be pursued in the courts. One was the Atlanta, Ga. Police abuse of Demetrius Hollins who was beat up last week by two officers after being stopped for a routine traffic stop. The other was a January story about a police officer at a Rolesville, N.C. high school who body slammed a teenage female student. King said a nine-minute cell phone video shows Officer Ruben De Los Santos picking up and slamming the petite girl to the ground like a rag doll. Her mother, speaking to local media, said the body slam gave her daughter a concussion, King wrote.

King suggests it’s not enough just to protest such incidents or as some of our local civil rights leaders have become accustomed to – merely holding press conferences. For the life of me I can’t imagine why some people think addressing an issue consists merely of holding a press conference. Mainstream media is more than happy to accommodate social activists who only want to conduct press conferences. Give ‘em 90 seconds on the evening news or 12 inches of news copy and you don’t have to worry about them disrupting business as usual.

I guess there’s some sense of accomplishment in getting the mainstream media to cover a civil rights press conference. In the old days, they never gave up even that courtesy. Recently one local civil rights leader said there’s a competition between local organizations to see which conducts the most press conferences. Please don’t shoot the messenger.

King suggests, and I agree, there must be more to addressing incidents of abuse beyond street protests and press conferences. The offending individuals and the organizations they represent must be held accountable. Cops and overzealous shop keepers who cross the lines of excessive use of force should be held accountable for their actions. And guess what, ya’ll? It ain’t enough just to get paid, especially when you’re talking about cops and public servants who violate the law.

The millions of dollars we pay to victims of excessive use of force and their survivors mean nothing when the perpetrator goes back to work, either here or somewhere else, as if nothing ever happened. And that money victims or their survivors receive doesn’t come out of the perpetrators’ pockets. It’s insurance money. And when the perpetrator is a public official, it’s our insurance money! Essentially we’re paying ourselves to be abused with our own money! There’s something perverted about that.

Jail time can be a strong deterrent! North Charleston police Officer Michael Slager, accused of murdering Walter Scott, is free right now. He’s enjoyed the support of some of his colleagues who have stepped up the pace in their abuse of authority. The city has paid off Scott’s survivors and Slager’s defense team even is playing games about who will pick up the tab for Slager’s defense.

There should be some strategic protesting that impacts the outcome in the courts. As I see it, there’s a 50/50 chance for acquittal given the racial history of our community.

Because there seems to be so little collaboration between street protests and action in the courts, I’m banking the uptick in abuse and excessive use of force against victims of color will escalate even more in the future. For all you Steve Harvey fans, take a listen to Shaun King on the TJMS. I think he has a point about the evolution of struggle.

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