Today, I had a very special conversation with my dad and asked him to share with me, as I have asked so many times in his 82-year journey as a black man on this planet, his thoughts on the ongoing oppressive relationship between primarily white male police officers and young black males across the nation. You see, my dad, just like many “old black men” in America, are the most precious and irreplaceable part of our American history that we will ever see. Their eyes have seen it all and when they die, there will be no more "truth-tellers." The type of magical national legacy Arlo Guthrie describes in his classic song, “City of New Orleans” when he sings,
Passing trains that have no names
Freight yards full of old black men
And the graveyards of rusted automobiles
Good morning America how are you?
Say don’t you know me, I’m your native son…
Towards the end of the song, Arlo sings the chorus,
Good night America how are you?
Say don’t you know me, I’m your native son…
My dad lived through the most damaging part of the Jim Crow south. As a boy he witnessed black men being hung, as white police officers smiled and laughed at their burned, mutilated, and castrated remains. This same dad later encouraged his three black sons to pursue careers in policing in order to become “mitigators of justice.” He encouraged me throughout my entire life to become an activist of social change within the criminal justice system and to never give up on "my black people."
Today, my dad shared with me these thoughts: “there’s no such thing as good or bad cops…either truthful or rotten people, who just happen to wear badges.” He added, "you can’t police someone if they don’t allow you to police them, and blacks today will not tolerate being policed by rotten people anymore, and this generation of young black men is willing to die for this cause, something we (his generation) failed to do. Truth and accountability are all the police have left to fight with."
As I thought about his words of wisdom for a moment, everything became so clear to me. You see, there is a very thin and imaginary line that our criminal justice system has successfully used to maintain social order in our country: the illusion of justice (the law will be applied in a fair and equitable fashion). As long as the community is willing to maintain this “illusion of justice” for the police (military-style uniforms, arrest powers, weapons/ability to use force, etc.), the court system (prosecution, plea agreements, criminal sentencing, etc.), and of corrections (removal from society, temporary physical confinement, incarceration, etc.) the one million full and part-time law enforcement officers employed across the country are socially permitted to “police” a national community of over 316 million. Without this illusion of justice, the criminal justice system is powerless, because the reality is, the system cannot arrest, prosecute, or incarcerate hundreds of millions of people.
Today, you have a fast growing segment of the black American community (and white Americans as well), who are young, intelligent, politically energized, influential, and uncompromising, that are no longer willing to “swallow the little red pill” originally offered to their grandparents in the 1960s as an "opiate for the black masses." They have no loyalty to the implied pacifist dogma historically being sold by the black church, NAACP, or outdated black civil rights activists. They know that justice is the “carrot at the end of a very long whip”…part of the grand 400 year-old illusion, having read, studied, and culturally digested the black American classics, "The Mis-Education of the Negro" along with "The Willie Lynch Letter: The Making of a Slave."
You see, the willful inability of police to deal with the historic and ongoing issue of systemic racism within its own ranks has critically weakened their ability to enforce the law and maintain social order. The simple fact remains, as long as systemic racism exists in America, which is deeply rooted in our nations historic ethos, there never has been or will be trust between the police and black Americans. The nation is hemorrhaging right now, and the only weapon the police possess in their vast government funded military arsenal, that hasn’t been used on black Americans thus far to stop the bleeding, is the humility of “truth and accountability.” Remember, those in policing around the country, in the very near future, the wisdom of "old black men" like my dad who encouraged young black men like myself to become “mitigators of justice” within the system, will be singing "good night America" and won’t be around to save you anymore.