Bookmark and Share
Click to go to the home page.
Click to send us your comments and suggestions.
Click to learn about the publishers of and our mission.
Click to search for any word or phrase on our Website.
Click to sign up for an e-Mail notification only whenever we publish something new.
Click to remove your e-Mail address from our list immediately and permanently.
Click to read our pledge to never give or sell your e-Mail address to anyone.
Click to read our policy on re-prints and permissions.
Click for the demographics of the audience and our rates.
Click to view the patrons list and learn now to become a patron and support
Click to see job postings or post a job.
Click for links to Websites we recommend.
Click to see every cartoon we have published.
Click to read any past issue.
Click to read any think piece we have published.
Click to read any guest commentary we have published.
Click to view any of the art forms we have published.
The current issue is always free to everyone

The Black Commentator - Where is Justice Hiding?

Jamala Rogers is Mark's guest Thursday, May 1, 2008

The recent acquittal of NYPD undercover detectives, Michael Oliver, Gescard Isnora and Marc Cooper, can be likened to throwing a Molotov cocktail in a room full of powder kegs - and missing this time. The incendiary cocktails are the legal justifications by the US courts of state-sanctioned abuse and murder; the powder kegs are the innumerable acts of injustice, neglect and violence heaped upon communities of color. It is inevitable that one of those tosses will land squarely on its target.

Such was the scenario 40 years ago when over 100 urban centers went up in smoke after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. When the Kerner Commission looked into why black folks responded in like manner across this country, the conditions were the same. The recipe for the combustible disaster was poverty, unemployment, poor housing, and lack of health care in a gravy of racism.

Those conditions are again reaching their tipping point. But we’ve also seen that the most common inflammatory ingredient on a smaller scale has been an act of police terrorism. Subsequently, cities like Los Angeles, Miami, Philly, Washington, DC and Detroit have gone up in smoke over police aggression.

In New York, where the most notorious and egregious examples of police violence have been exposed, the powerful Blue Wall of Silence prevails. Whether it’s the sodomizing of Abner Louima with a toilet plunger or using black men for target practice in the cases of Amado Diallo (41 shots) or the most recent cases of Sean Bell, Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman (50 shots), the victims are often portrayed as causing their own demise.

Most police departments have been shielded by the law, regardless of their acts of violence and misconduct. Time after time, there is no justice for the individual citizen or the community. Even the most valiant efforts of committed groups fighting against these atrocities have been muted. I have been in such formations for nearly 35 years and occasionally got an officer fired or got compensation for victims and their families through civil suits. But never have we been successful at getting criminal charges to stick, thereby sending a message that black life does count.

Under this scenario, the rogue cops become more emboldened and impatient victims become more desperate. About five years ago, I began seeing and hearing from young, black men that, with the kind of lawlessness by police seemingly condoned by the justice system and the community, they had no choice but to take matters into their own hands. These young, men - not all drug dealers and robbers - expressed the need to defend themselves against the police. Translation: Take them out before they take me out.

Now, young men are not just trying to outrun the cops, they are shooting back. Nationwide, estimates of the number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty show an increase of 30 percent in 2007 compared with 2006. And the numbers are growing.

Police can now claim to have material justification for the hypersensitivity to danger in the hood. The “I felt threatened” rationale is used in many situations. Police departments and police associations have their strategy down. They often get unconditional support from elected officials, i.e. increased budgets, better fire-power, etc.

In the Sean Bell case, Judge Arthur Cooperman referred to the actions of the NY undercover cops as careless and incompetent, yet still acquitted the trigger-happy trio. Newly appointed NY Governor David Paterson claimed he was “surprised” about the verdict, given the number of rounds fired, but stated the justice system had worked. It reminded me of US Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens saying the death penalty has outlived its usefulness (if it ever had any) but still voting with the majority opinion to uphold lethal injection. They continue to hold up a system rife with flaws and one in which the average working class person, regardless of color or nationality, has little confidence.

As our young people struggle to deal with life in America, they have lost faith in the adults’ ability to bring the system to some modicum of accountability. It is a complex situation with many factors as to why police occupy our communities, disrespect our property and lives, ignore their own procedures and protocols but seem always to come out smelling like a hero.

The criminalization of young, black men has also taken a toll of on our communities who have a basic right to safety and security. Communities have been victimized by black youth and by cops. A clear response to the brutalization of a youth is not always forthcoming. Just as police feel threatened in our communities, so do the young men who ride and walk the streets.

In St. Louis, we experienced a backlash against black youth when a 15-year-old kid killed a rookie cop last year. Both were African-American. Antonio Andrews was quickly certified as an adult and will face murder charges. Norvelle Brown, who had been on the police force for only a year, was 22 years old. He joined the department to make a difference, asking to be assigned to his old neighborhood. When Brown came upon Antonio in a dark alley, Antonio didn’t know if he was a cop that was ready to blow him away or a cop that would take time to ask questions. Armed for general protection, he shot and killed Officer Brown.

The African-American community has put its arms around the Brown family, even naming a street after Brown in the neighborhood where he patrolled. As for Antonio, only a few have come to his aid for fear of being seen as coddling a cop killer. It is complicated.

Community organizers, elected officials, clergy and other concerned citizens must take this bull by the horns. It is time to ratchet up our efforts and adjust our strategy. It is a fact that we cannot rely on local prosecutors to mete out justice to law enforcers; they must rely on these same entities to help them prosecute cases. The demand must be for independent prosecutors. We must also make murder by a police officer a truly punishable offense.

We must teach our youth how to live in a racist and hostile environment, what their rights are when confronted by police, and provide them with affordable, safe and supervised social and recreational outlets. These facilities are almost non-existent for black and brown teens. Hanging out not only makes young people a target for profiling by police but also targets of other teens. Homicide is the number one cause of death for black youth and given the grim realities in which they live, suicide is number three. Our communities and the few support systems left must rise to the occasion. The Bush administration has put us all in peril but our children and youth are the most vulnerable.

It will be interesting to see where Congressman John Conyers, chair of the judicial committee, takes the Sean Bell miscarriage of justice. His involvement is admirable and whatever he does, it will give national attention to a chronic issue. But it is clearly a problem too big for one man; it must be taken on with bodacious resolve by caring communities. Editorial Board member Jamala Rogers is the leader of the Organization for Black Struggle in St. Louis and the Black Radical Congress National Organizer. Click here to contact Ms. Rogers.

Your comments are always welcome.

e-Mail re-print notice

If you send us an e-Mail message we may publish all or part of it, unless you tell us it is not for publication. You may also request that we withhold your name.

Thank you very much for your readership.


May 1, 2008
Issue 275

is published every Thursday

Executive Editor:
Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Peter Gamble
Est. April 5, 2002
Printer Friendly Version in resizeable plain text format format
Cedille Records Sale