By Beverly Gadson-Birch
Let’s begin with the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Who exactly are “We, the People?” When we understand who “we the people” are then we will understand blacks were never included in “we, the people”. Blacks had no part in writing the Constitution. And, at the time it was written in 1787, blacks were in servitude. They were considered “property” and not “people”. They were bought and sold at will to the highest bidder. That’s my Preamble to the latest killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis by police officers. That’s right! Officers who are sworn to protect!
According to the New York Times, a deli employee called police stating George Floyd was attempting to purchase cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. Police officers handcuffed Floyd and attempted to put him in the backseat of their car. Floyd informed the officers that he was claustrophobic and could not ride in the back of the car. He was laid out on the street–concrete. Videos showed Officer Chauvin placing his knee in the fold of Floyd’s neck and applying pressure for more than 8 minutes until he went limp. He was pronounced dead at the hospital. However, it was evident, Floyd died at the scene.
Floyd’s death was incredulous and avoidable. Three other police officers were on the scene and could have stopped Chauvin at any time, but they failed to act. Whatever happened to “the hand of one is the hand of all” or, does that apply to blacks only? The three officers on the scene are complicit in Floyd’s death and should be charged with accessory to murder. The videos showed Officer Chauvin kept his hand in his pocket to apply pressure and to help keep his knee in place. Floyd’s repeated plea, along with bystanders, for the officer to remove his knee from Floyd’s neck because he was having difficulty breathing had no impact upon the officers. Chauvin continued to knee Floyd even after he went limp.
Violence begets violence! Floyd met with a violent death. And, now that protests have turned violent in cities across the country, law enforcement agencies, mayors and governors are calling for peace. If the powers that be want peace, they must be peaceful. In the absence of peace, chaos reigns. Africans were brought to America, against their will, to work in blazing hot fields, serve as maids, nannies, and raped repeatedly by Massa. African women, black women were not considered “people”, but as sex objects for white men. Floyd’s death is the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was numerous violations of human rights purportedly guaranteed under the constitution that boiled over on the day Floyd was killed.
Below are reminders of what inequities look like. They are just a few reminders of how we got where we are:
Charleston Hospital Strike of 1969- The year was 1969 and I decided to return home to join the hospital workers protesting and striking for decent wages. It was a peaceful protest for the most part. Unlike more recent protests, the 1969 strike lasted some 113 days. A Mother’s Day march was held the same year with over 10,000 marchers and 1,000 arrests. Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) joined the protesters and were viewed as outside agitators.
Black Wall Street- Ninety-Nine years ago in Tulsa, Oklahoma, an all-black thriving Greenwood District was destroyed by jealous whites. Blacks owned over 240 businesses. They were moving on up. After the riot, black families trickled back to rebuild and completed rebuilding in 1942; but business began declining in 1960-1980. According to History.com, a white woman alleged she was assaulted by a black man. It’s the same ole story that is responsible for hundreds, if not thousands of lynching. A group of white men went from house to house looking for the alleged perpetrator, killing black men, destroying their families and homes.
Rosewood- A similar incident occurred in 1923 to another thriving all-black town, with the exception of one white grocery store owner, in Rosewood, Florida. Six blacks and two whites died during four days of violence and several hundred had to leave town hurriedly with little more than the clothes on their back. No one was punished for this horrific and barbaric crime against blacks. According to Wikipedia, eyewitnesses placed the death toll higher, between 27-150. The destruction of Rosewood began when a white woman fabricated a story that she had been raped by a black man. Nevertheless, what was once a productive black supported town was reduced to rubble.
Watts Riot in Los Angeles, California- Watts riot was a race riot. Marquette Frye, an African American motorist on parole for robbery, was pulled over for reckless driving. Words were exchanged and the encounter escalated into a fight with police. The California National Guard was called in to help calm the disturbance. Thirty-four persons died and over $40 million in property damages. Los Angeles was also the home of the beating of Rodney King by police officers.
The Orangeburg Massacre- Students from South Carolina State and Claflin Colleges protested against the owner of a white bowling alley refusal to allow them admission. Three students were killed, several more shot.
These are just a few major cases of what started out as peaceful protests. Protests are nothing new. Protest is the response to “not listening”. Generally, behind each case is racism. The killing of unarmed black men is designed to control the black population. It’s a means to the end. If you destroy the head, the tail dies. Mothers without husbands—children without fathers. The end is to destroy black families
While several legislators were soliciting donations on Sunday in downtown Charleston to restore mainly white businesses on King Street, my mind took me back to predominantly black communities–Rosewood, Tulsa, Watts and other locations that were heavily damaged and in some instances destroyed, lives lost, and blacks ran out of town in the dark of night. I don’t recall reading of anyone taking up funds, matching or otherwise, for those blacks who lost everything. Did anyone rebuild those communities? No!
White folk often ask the question “what do those people want?” Well, I am one of “those people”. I am black so let me respond to your question. The answer is “the same thing you want”. We want a right to pursue the American dream without you turning our dreams into nightmares. We just want a seat at the table where decisions are made. We want a quality and high-tech education for our children. We want free college tuition and/or scholarships. We want to be treated with dignity and respect. We want affordable homes and health care. We want to be able to earn decent wages so we can take our children on vacations. We want lower interest rates on auto and home loans. We want fair access to contracts and working capital. We want our black boys and men to leave home without fear of being followed, searched or killed. We are tired of being lied to and treated as second class citizens. Frankly speaking, we are fed up to the head up on unproductive meetings.
I continue to hear the slogan, “we are South Carolina strong”. Well, consider this slogan, “we are South Carolina wrong.” Since the beginning of time, we have been lied to, pitted against each other, made to feel inferior/outcast, denigrated to the point that many have become unproductive. The reason being, “why bother?” When we build strong communities, you burn them down. When we apply for a home loan, you turn them down. When we graduate with honors, we are still the last hired. When we beat you to the finish line, you move the goal further away.
Admit you are Charleston wrong, North Charleston wrong and let’s move forward together strong!