I have been thinking a lot about the events in Ferguson and the Grand Jury’s decision to not bring back an indictment against Darren Wilson for the murder of Mike Brown. The same decision not to indict Darren Wilson has been made over and over again by grand juries across the nation; thus, I was not surprised by it. However, as an African-American male, I am afraid. Although I have a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from Florida A&M University, an MPA from Georgia State University and a Ph.D. in higher education administration from New York University, I still fear for my Black life at every encounter with the police. I was stopped by the police as I drove from Miami to Atlanta yesterday, and all I could think in my head was “Lord please let me live through this experience.” I didn’t know whether to reach for my wallet, registration and insurance or not. I was paralyzed by fear.
I believe that the repetitive decision by juries who let guilty cops off the hook has made it “open season” for cops and others to kill us under the seemingly accepted notion that all African-American males can and should be considered threats that allow White Americans to claim to “fear for their lives” and “have no choice” but to kill us. Yet, I also recall something called Berek’s Code that I read in Stephen R. Donaldson’s The Illearth War. The Code states: “Do no hurt where holding is enough; do not wound where hurting is enough; do not maim where wounding is enough; and kill not where maiming is enough; the greatest warrior is he who does not need to kill.” In most cases where unarmed African-American males have been shot to death, they could have been tasered to submission or beaten with bully clubs. Especially with no imminent threat to the lives of the officers outside the notion—in their head—that all unarmed African-American males are imminent threats to cops with guns, tasers and other pons. While I understand cops using force when faced with an imminent threat, an unarmed Mike Brown was not one of those threats.
I then think about the notion that President Barack Obama posited that the Ferguson jury’s decision carries “the rule of law” and people must accept it. However, the prongs of history come into my head, and I think of the “rule of law” that existed in Germany under Hitler that allowed for the deaths of millions of Jews. I then think about the “rule of law” in Europe, which allowed for the mass enslavement and colonization of people around the world that included millions of African slaves who died in transit. Then I think about the ”rule of law” in the United States in the early part of the 19th century that allowed White Americans to lynch African-Americans without fear of consequences.
I think about the “rule of law” in Iraq that allowed Saddam Hussein to kill thousands of his own people, and I think about the rule of law in Libya that allowed Muammar Gaddafi to commit mass murders. If this were happening in North Korea, China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and other countries around the world, Americans would call the systematic killing and mass imprisonment of a particular ethnic group of people as the genocide and mass murder of people and Americans would call for these human rights issues to be addressed. However, when we speak about the nationwide murders of African-American males by cops, the mass imprisonment of African-American males in America and the mass economic enslavement of African-Americans in the United States, we call it the “rule of law.” The “rule of law” was not accepted in Apartheid South Africa, in “Separate but Equal” America or Holocaust Nazi Germany. I submit that it is not acceptable today in the United States.
The world remains silent while America continues to use the unjust “rule of law” in a Nazi-like fashion toward the detriment of its African-American people. Where is the condemnation by the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Spain, China and Russia? Where are the countries of the world in the defense of the African-American people? The irony in all of this is that we have an African-American president in the White House. A president who has consistently refused to address the issues of the same African-American people who came out to vote for him in historic numbers with the hope that he would in some way make life better for the people that look like him.
While President Obama has openly and unapologetically addressed women’s issues, gay issues, Jewish Issues, Hispanic Issues and immigration issues, he has conveniently and purposefully avoided addressing any issues as it relates to African-Americans. More concerning, is that African-Americans continue to — even in the face of an increasingly negative reality for Black people in America — to defend the President despite his unwillingness to openly address our issues. We make excuses about Republican opposition or the political limitations of him being an African-American and openly addressing Black issues. I am sorry, but there are no excuses that should be acceptable to us.
I am, however, inspired by the protests that have been sparked in communities all across America by people (African-American, Hispanic, White, Asian and American Indian) who recognize the grave injustice that has been done and who are willing to stand up for what is right. They are standing up in ways in which most civil rights organizations, politicians and so-called African-American leaders are not. While most protests have been non-violent, there have been cases of rioting, looting and lawlessness among a minority of people. However, I believe that even their extreme frustration and cries of protest are symbolic of where we are in America right now and are being heard across the world.
These protests are similar to the revolutions recently seen in Egypt and Hong Kong by oppressed people. This movement will not stop until the “rule of law” in our great nation protects the oppressed as well as the oppressor. Make no mistake; we cannot stand idly by while our innocent sons are murdered and then justified by unjust laws. This is a call to action for every American. In solidarity with all of my brothers and sisters, I will not be shopping during Black Friday through Cyber Monday. We must understand that there are two types of power in America, economic power and political power. The idea of boycotting #BlackFriday is to show Political Power through a display of Economic Power that will make the nation take notice. I understand that we have become selfish, but change comes with sacrifice and action. Frederick Douglass told us a long time ago, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress! Power concedes nothing without a demand: it never has and it never will.” While I understand the deals are exceptional ($398 60 inch TV’s at Walmart, etc.), the innocent lives of African-American men are worth so much more (#BlackLivesMatter). Some believe that this must be sustained over a longer period of time to have that impact, and I believe we can start tomorrow and continue until our goal is achieved. We must never forsake small beginning. While I understand personal gain, I ask that everyone to sacrifice on this Friday to show our discontent with our country.
John Michael Lee, Jr., Ph.D., is vice president of the Office of Access and Success at the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU).