Monday, August 29, 2016

Black Lives - Blue Lives - White Lives - All Lives

Three Years in Mississippi
"No one can enter this street without being seen by a policeman.  I always drive very slowly past the police station in order to make sure that all the policemen get a chance to take a good look at me.  This may seem strange, but it is perhaps the main reason why I was seldom trailed or bothered by the police during my many visits home while I was in the Air Force.  It is a fact that within a very short time after one arrives in town practically everyone knows it, including the police, and if there is anything that a Mississippi cop hates, it is for someone to know something about a Negro that he doesn't know first.  By giving the police the first look, the Negro relieves them of the necessity of finding the 'n      ' and 'getting the goods on him.'  When a Mississippi policeman has to suffer the embarrassment of looking for a 'n       ,' he is likely to make the trip worth his while."

The above passage is taken from Three Years in Mississippi, chronicled by a native son, J H Meredith, or James Meredith.  Taken place between 1960 and 1963, the book was published in 1966, and it is about Mr. Meredith's mission to attend the Whites Only segregated University of Mississippi.  With methodical eloquence, his writing reflected a man who bore world experiences (having served nearly a decade in the Air Force including a final three-year stint stationed in Japan) before returning home with his wife and young son.  Meredith painted the picture of thick oppression which Mississippi Blacks lived under White authority, particularly the police, in the introductory first chapter.
Here is how my copy of Three Years in Mississippi came into my possession:  Purchased by a local public library in 1968, it remained on the shelves until I withdrew it from the small library where I was employed sometime around the year 2000, give or take a couple of years.  I simply used a criteria - a book that lacked circulation, was esoteric, too academic, was weeded from the collection.  I had to make room for newer books.  Today, it seems that most public libraries (except for a few large ones like the Los Angeles Central Library) do not have this title - it is available, however, in many university and college libraries.

I felt the profound weight of the subject matter from this book.  I purchased the book (from the sale bin where withdrawn library books end up) for personal safekeeping, and I managed to read it half way.  It has taken more than a decade for me to return to this book that I never forgot.  It became a necessary book to turn to as I contemplate the ongoing escalation of altercations between primarily Black citizens and law enforcement.

Along the shelves of southern California public libraries there is the abundance of books on the topic of civil rights, including those in the children's collections.  Biographies about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King tell the story of a long, long ago civil rights struggle in the 1950s and 1960s.  In contrasting irony for Mr. Meredith's book, the average person has to set foot in a university or college library in order to encounter it.  (Well, interlibrary loan service and the internet can bring Meredith's story out, but one needs to know some fact in order to begin the search).

Black Like Me

Another book is the 1961 Black Like Me, an exposé by White journalist John Howard Griffin.  He darkened his skin to tour segregated southern states for six weeks beginning in late 1959.

His experiences were published in serial form before the book was came out.  It is a classic today and can be found in most public libraries as well as libraries of higher learning.  Griffin's guise and journey provided the rest of the country a lens into the Jim Crow traditions through the print medium. 

Similarly though over fifty-five years later, through the internet medium the July 6th webcast of Diamond Reynolds' terror in the car of her dying fiancé, Philando Castile, pulled the public-at-large into the incessant dangers encountered by Black lives.

The Little Rock Nine & Mendez v. Westminster

Terrence Roberts moved to L.A. around 1958 and attended Los Angeles High School.  He was not the typical newcomer to the city.  He was a brave teenager who agreed to be one of the Little Rock Nine, nine students who pushed to attend an all-White school in 1957 and eventually helped to integrate Central High School in Arkansas.  He left as a result of Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus closing the schools for an entire year in 1958.  After graduation, Dr. Roberts attended Los Angeles City College, California State University at Los Angeles, then UCLA.  He earned his Ph.D. at Southern Illinois U, Carbondale.

Another graduate of my alma mater, Cal State University, Los Angeles, is Sylvia Mendez.  American-born Ms. Mendez, as an 8-year old child, was denied entry to a nearby Whites Only school in Westminster, California, as were her brothers and cousins, on account of their Hispanic heritage.  She became the lead plaintiff in the 1946 case Mendez v. Westminster, that eventually broke away the barriers of segregated schools in this state.

Cover photo of Terrence Roberts and Sylvia Mendez

The struggles of American society to maintain the ideals of equality is constantly tested.  The deeds of those opposed to integrated education, for example, have never rested.  A current example is Gardendale, Alabama, that seeks to restructure their school district thus chip away at the strides for integration made by people like Dr. Roberts and Ms. Mendez.


In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Mr. Alton Sterling, 37 years of age, was shot and killed by police.  This was another fatality of a Black citizen in the course of police responding to a call.


Mr. Philando Castile, a gainfully-employed 32-year-old Black man, was driving his family (fiancée Diamond Reynolds and her four-year-old child) when they were stopped by a member of the St. Anthony, Minneapolis police department.  What followed shocked the country as Ms. Reynolds had the calm presence of mind to video-capture and webcast real-time onto Facebook, dually complying with the screaming officer and narrating to the world.  The driver, Mr. Castile, sat blood-drenched and dying when the video began.  This final police stop was the 46th or 50-some-odd time Castile had been stopped which included a 2011 traffic stop by the same White officer who killed Castile.


In Dallas, Texas, a Black man shot at law enforcement from a distant, hidden location - killing five White officers.  The rampage began at the close of a peaceful, solidarity demonstration for the killing of two Black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, earlier in the week in separate officer-involved incidents in Louisiana and Minnesota.


While the Dallas shootings jolted the country, the release of Pokémon Go started its own mania, prompting gamers to tread to odd places at odd hours.  By Sunday, July 10th, one player was out at 2 a.m. in Eugene, Oregon, when he witnessed a man vandalizing a restaurant.  The captured vandal was allegedly responsible for a rash of attacks against Asian-operated businesses.


A Black man shot up six law enforcement officers in Baton Rouge, leaving three dead, including Officer Montrell Jackson, 32 years of age.  Mr. Jackson's death held extraordinary poignancy, as a little more than a week earlier, he issued a weary plea of hope.  He also expressed frustration in being viewed with hate while being Black in uniform, yet treated with suspicion when out of uniform.  Well-like by his community, Officer Jackson left behind a wife and a new-born.

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As of this posting, Marysville, Tennessee Officer Kenny Moats, 32 years of age and White, was killed by a White perpetrator on Thursday, 8.25.2016.  In Los Angeles, the news that the 8.12.2015 police shooting of Black woman Redel Jones, 30-years-old, was deemed justified.

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Looking back at 2015 and 2014, a select mention of deaths among Blacks and law enforcement officers include:

7.10.2015  The devastating mistreatment of Sandra Bland, 28 years of age, in Hempstead, Texas, by a White arresting officer.

4.12.2015   The arrest of Freddie Gray, 25 years of age, in Baltimore, Maryland, and the callous abuse by a group of White and Black officers causing his death.

12.20.2014  The execution of two NYPD officers by an unstable individual with a criminal record.  The killings of Rafael Ramos, 39 years of age, and his partner Wenjian Liu, newly-wed and 32 years of age, in their patrol car in Brooklyn was reported as retaliation for earlier officer-involved victims, Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

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2.2013  Disgruntled Black LAPD officer Christopher Dorner embarked on a killing rampage with victims that included random on-duty police officers in his path throughout southern California.  His crimes culminated in a manhunt lasting twelve days, ending in San Bernardino County.  Two women (who are not Black) in a slow cruise, delivering newspapers in an early morning, were mistakenly fired upon by Torrance officers.