Thursday, December 4, 2014

I Can't Breathe

There is no greater tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of the law and in the name of justice.” 
― Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 @National Archives Documents
I can't get that quote out of my head. It is clanging in there like a brick dropped in a steel drum. Here I am, marinating in the pain of human rights lost and the clear and present danger to people of my race in the United States, the country that tries to dictate right and wrong to the world. This pain is deep, and old. Nightmares of the harms done to me and mine haunted my dreams last night. The illusion of justice we convinced ourselves we had was a veneer that has been dissolved away.  Events are proceeding as if there is no need to hide the fact we've lived with for over 100 years: justice is not for those Americans who are Black and poor. The right to be safely taken into custody and tried by a jury of one's peers if one is suspected of committing a crime is not for people of color. It is as if institutionalized shooting is the new way of lynching. Being shot to death can happen to seven year old Aiyana Stanley Jones, sleeping on a couch in what passed for her home.  It can be done out of malice to Ronald Madison, 40 and autistic. Anyone can be the next potential victim.  It could happen to Oprah Winfrey as she learned when her fame and $2.9 billion net worth failed to keep her from being treated like the rest of us when entering a store to buy a purse. You can't buy your way out of this legacy with money, or education, athleticism, or winning the office of the President of the United States.  Each day for the rest of our lives, we will be reminded that we are Black, and if we don't agree that Black is less,  if we don't look away when the dominant culture dictates that the Black body be the beast of burden of society then we will be made to stand by helplessly while our people are shot. The murders are here to tear at our hearts and remind us that we have no voice in this society. July 2, 1964 makes no difference today. The Civil Rights Act is so much paper and photo op. This effort, for which so many continue to die, is failing. All men are created equal as long as those men are not Black and poor.

What do I say to my boy today? We are already harassed when we try and take walks and try to go out and see our world together. A gray haired Black woman walking unsteadily down a sidewalk with a large, hispanic looking male leaning on her for support. Will they shoot us today? Will he look threatening? What if he's having a meltdown? What do I tell him if they hurt him? That 'the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice?' Because I have been waiting for it to bend in that direction since 1965. It just is not bending.

The Scottsboro Boys, with attorney Samuel Leibowitz,
under guard by the state militia, 1932. Image is of 9 Black teens in
 a cage with two white Alabama militia men and their attorney,
 who was white. 
I must again change how we interact with the world. Because our world differs from the world of the autism families who continue to dominate the autism conversation. Our world  is now less safe.

What the grand jury ruling in the Eric Garner murder means is body cameras on police will not change an outcome that is only a surprise to people who aren't black or brown. A camera on a body is only as good as the person wearing it. It can easily be shut off, or disregarded as evidence in grand jury hearings and trials. There is no route to accountability if accountability is simply a modern rerun of the way things were done in Alabama, when the Scottsboro boys were rounded up and tried for a crime that never happened because white boys were caught hoboing on a train, and wanted to get out of trouble. That happened 80 years ago. Has anything in the justice system changed? Not really. Even seeing injustice with our own eyes is not enough. Our eyes, the gaslighting voice of authority says, deceive us. Only things we can't comprehend matter. The weight of our words as witnesses are light. We are dismissed. Only power and privilege matter. So what do I do now? Where do I go from here? It isn't just a question I'm asking myself as an activist who has hit the insurmountable wall of institutionalized racism this entire year. It is a question I am asking as the mother of a nonspeaking autistic son in an American horror story of police in public schools, the resurgence of hate groups and those groups being given national media coverage to spew hate on us. People with power who see my son, with his budding mustache and older look, larger than his peers and neurdivergent, as a threat where he is not one. They see him and are afraid. The worst atrocities in our lifetime have been the byproducts of fear. Unnecessary fear based on ignorance, the hate that fear generates, and the devastating consequences to our people. Atrocities, forgiven under the shield of the law and in the name of justice.

I am rethinking my entire way of living and wondering, terrified,  what I can do to keep him from being another Neli Latson, in solitary confinement for the new crime of wanting to end his life because of the horrible circumstances that brought him from going to the library to the iron grip of a system that doesn't care that he has no understanding of what he did wrong. The law says if he does not understand what he did, he is not fit to be tried. But if you find yourself in Neli's situation, you'd better not be Black in Virginia.

See when I say justice for Michael Brown, what I am saying is that a man should not be shot repeatedly for jaywalking, in the same country where, as a person said on social media, a white male with bright orange hair walks into a theatre, throws tear gas and fires an assault rife, kills 12, wounds 70 victims and is taken alive. When I say justice for Eric Garner, I mean a man who died before our eyes crushed in an illegal chokehold for selling untaxed cigarettes should not have died in a country where Cliven Bundy, a rancher who owes more than $1 million to the federal government for late grazing and trespassing fees, which he has been accruing since the 1990's and refusing to pay, can simply not pay, and armed white people can plant themselves on federal land and scream "State's rights!". Cliven Bundy, the bigot, who later said awful things about my people, is free, his cattle grazing on federal land, and will never be arrested for anything.

I am not anti police and will challenge anyone to tries to slap that label on me. Having been fortunate enough to know outstanding law enforcement officers, seeing those who abuse that power makes me angry. This abuse of power denigrates all police officers who do their jobs and perform in an outstanding manner each day of their careers. Each time, in an attempt to protect police officers in general, someone abusing power is allowed to get away with it a huge canyon divide opens between law enforcement and our community. No amount of talk can repair what doing the right thing can.

There is a hashtag sign people are carrying in the streets, an echo of Eric Garner's dying words. It is a summary of my trying to collect myself, my disgust at organizations that should have done more before now and did not, the rampant racism within disability rights organizations that has me reeling this year,  my own attempts to cease hugging my neurodivergent son and husband in shock wondering when this nightmare will end.

The hashtag sign says simply I can't breathe.

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