Black Lives Shattered: A Look at Racism Through the Eyes of the Innocent

Submitted for Contest #45 in response to: Write a story about change.... view prompt

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           Before we can deal with what faces us today, we must first look back at the origins of the past regarding racism and slavery.

           It began back in the 17th Century when hundreds of thousands of people were taken from the continent of Africa to America where they were forced to work as slaves on plantations and in colonies picking cotton, tobacco, and other crops. The earliest recorded incident occurred in Jamestown, Virginia on August 20, 1619, when The White Lion, a privateer ship arrived at Point Comfort with a group of enslaved people with the intent to trade them for food. The people had originally been kidnapped by the crew of the Portuguese slave ship, San Juan Bautista which was en route to Veracruz in the colony of New Spain. The slave ship had been attacked by The White Lion and another ship named the Treasurer. Many of the prisoners aboard the ship had died.

           European settlers in America chose to use these prisoners as slaves since European servants were much more costly. Before the end of the 18th Century, between six and seven million slaves had been brought from Africa and were forced into hard labor. Many of the black women were expected to perform sexual favors for their “Masters” in exchange for special privileges such as working in the house instead of out in the field.

           Between April 19, 1775, and September 3, 1783, the Revolutionary War was fought, and more than 5,000 black soldiers and sailors defended the U.S. against the British. Following the war, a new U.S. Constitution had acknowledged the institution of slavery, stating that each enslaved individual would count as three-fifths of a person for taxation purposes and representation in Congress and that they guaranteed the right for citizens to repossess any person held in service or labor before the war.

           Between 1774, and 1804, all northern states had moved to abolish all slavery, but slavery remained rampant in the southern states. In 1793, after the invention of the cotton gin by inventor, Eli Whitney, the demand for slave labor had increased, and although U.S. congress had outlawed the African slave trade in 1808, the domestic trade demand continued to flourish, and over the next 50 years to follow, the enslaved population had tripled. By 1860, the number of slaves in the southern states had reached over four million. Slaves were prohibited from learning to read or write and punished severely if they were caught “misbehaving”. Even their movements were restricted.

           Marriage between enslaved couples was not legally recognized in the South. Many of the families were sold and split apart then forced to work in different colonies.

           The Abolitionist Movement began in the 1830s by a freed slave named Frederick Douglass and white supporters such as William Lloyd Garrison, founder of the radical newspaper The Liberator. The movement argued both that slavery was a sin and the fact that slaveholding was regressive, inefficient, and made little economic sense.

           Anti-slavery supporters in the North began to help enslaved people in the South escape to the free North. They would travel hundreds of miles by foot or any means possible through rebel lands and take shelter in safe houses along the way. This came to be known as the Underground Railroad.

           By 1830, Conductors of the Underground Railroad such as Harriet Tubman overcame countless odds to help guide escapees to the North. It is estimated that this movement aided anywhere from 40,000 to 100,000 enslaved people into a life of freedom.

           On September 22, 1862, Abraham Lincoln officially announces that “slaves within any State, or designated part of a State…in rebellion…shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free”, which freed over three million slaves in the rebel states. This action did not end slavery completely, unfortunately; it was not until the end of the Civil War on December 6, 1865, with the 13th Amendment declaring that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction”. Out of the 186,000 black soldiers who fought for the freedom of the United States, 38,000 had lost their lives.

           During the Indian Wars following the Revolutionary War, four all-black Regiments were formed, the 9th Cavalry, the 10th Cavalry, the 24th Cavalry, and the 25th Cavalry. It was the 10th Cavalry, however, who had been nicknamed “Buffalo Soldiers” by a tribe of Native Americans. These Buffalo Soldiers were formed as a Black Cavalry in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas on September 21, 1866, and were key players in the war, participating in nearly every battle on the front line.

           On July 9, 1868, the 14th Amendment was adopted as part of the Constitution and addressed the topics of citizen’s rights and equal protection under the law and was later followed up with the 15th Amendment on February 3, 1870, which stated the right of any citizen to vote regardless of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. This would become the turning point in black history.

           Despite the adoption of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, many were still opposed to the rights of black people. The most vocal group would have to be the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), formed in 1865 for the “purification” of American society. Donning white robes and cone-shaped hoods to hide their identities and shed fear among their onlookers, these murderous thugs began lynching any non-white people that they could get their hands on. The first Klan organization died out in 1871.

           The 2nd Klan started in 1915 in Georgia. By the mid-1920s, it expanded nationwide and began protests against not only people of color but also against Catholics and Jews. It was this group who also began burning crosses as a statement of their presence as well as to drive fear into the hearts of all who opposed them. They faded out in 1944.

           From 1946 until the present day, the 3rd Klan has been in existence. They were present during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s, and they were also responsible for the bombing of several black-owned homes and churches in Birmingham, Alabama.

           Since then, the KKK had claimed responsibility for several bombings including schools, school buses, and churches. They have also been known to lynch several people, and even though their numbers have decreased, they still have the support of many people, especially in the South. In 2019, an editorial was printed in a Linden, Alabama newspaper dictating the need for the Klan to regroup, start staging their night rides and begin lynching people again.

           On March 7, 1965, the Selma March had begun from Selma, Alabama along a 54 mile stretch to the state capitol in Montgomery. What was to be a peaceful protest had been met with hate crimes and resulted in the deaths and injuries of many supporters of the protest. The demonstration was to express the right of African-American citizens to vote. Segregation was still dominant in the South and the defiance that they had faced was not only uncalled for but belligerent. Protestors against the movement along with law enforcement officers, political leaders, and the KKK, stood against the marchers. Thousands were arrested and many were brutally and fatally beaten in the process. This day was dubbed “Bloody, Sunday”. On March 21, 1965, the third march had taken place, but President Lyndon Johnson had now added his support to the cause despite the protests of Alabama Governor George Wallace who refused to let the marchers pass. President Johnson had sent in 1,900 members of the Alabama National Guard along with FBI agents and federal marshals to ensure the protection and safe passage of the 25,000 protestors. Black and white stood together for a united cause along with members of the clergy, they crossed the bridge into Montgomery and made history. The Voting Rights Act became law on August 6, 1965.

           On March 3, 1991, the story of Rodney King filled the majority of the media coverage. Rodney King’s brutal beating by four LAPD police officers made international news when the video on the phone of a bystander captured it all. The results of the incident left 25-year-old Rodney King with his right leg broken, approximately 56 bruises and wounds from the officers' batons, a badly cut and swollen face, and a burn mark on his chest caused by the 50,000 volts applied through a stun gun. The four officers were charged, though only three had been acquitted. The verdict sparked the beginning of the 1992 Los Angeles riots which lasted for six days until the National Guard, the U.S. Army, and the U.S. Marine corps were called in for crowd control. The results of the riots left 2,383 injured and 63 dead. King died in 2012 by drowning in his pool following drug and alcohol use.

           On February 26, 2012, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin is shot and killed following an altercation with a community watch member in Sanford, Florida. George Zimmerman was not charged at the time of the incident because he had been injured during the altercation and was acting in self-defense. Under Florida’s “Stand your ground” law, Zimmerman could not be charged for defending himself. Protests began after the shooting and an investigation was done. The trial was extensive with the final results being that George Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter.

           On July 13, 2013, following the sentencing of George Zimmerman, the “Black Lives Matter” organization was developed by three women; Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. The purpose of this movement was to bring to light Anti-racist advocacy and to form peaceful protests in defense against racially-motivated actions from law enforcement officers and vigilante persons or groups. The phrase “Black Lives Matter” was derived from a quote by founding member, Alicia Garza when she stated, “Our Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter”. The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter began trending overnight and became internationally used. The online campaign then began and support of the movement grew exponentially. Many marches and protests have taken place around the world since that day and have made many people aware of the devastation that racial profiling can do.

           July 5, 2016, Alton Sterling, a resident in Baton Rouge, Louisiana was shot and killed by two Baton Rouge police officers following a call about a man waving a gun while attempting to sell CDs. Alton Sterling was a 37-year-old, 310-pound black man who was described as “always smiling”, a “nice guy” or “gentle giant” by many. He had literally given a man the shirt off of his back because the man had none.  Alton had recently purchased a handgun to protect himself after a friend had been robbed. Alton had a criminal record including felonies, so it is unclear how he was able to purchase the weapon.

           When police arrived on the scene, Alton was accused of resisting arrest. One of the officers assumed that Alton was reaching for the loaded .38 caliber handgun in his front pocket and they opened fire on him, hitting him six times in the chest and back. Regardless of the bystanders' testimony and video footage, as well as the body cam footage from the officers, the incident was deemed lawful and the two officers were not charged.

           That evening, a memorial took place in North Baton Rouge where residents fired off fireworks in Alton’s memory. On July 6th, Black Lives Matter created a candlelight vigil for Alton chanting “We love Baton Rouge” and calling out for justice to be done.

           President Barack Obama was quoted saying, “Americans should feel outraged at episodes of police brutality since they’re rooted in long-simmering racial discord.”

           Soon, shootings and violent protests began taking place by radical groups and individuals throughout Texas and Louisiana relating to Sterling’s death, and on July 17, 2016, the New Black Panther Party member, Gavin Eugene Long was in a shoot-out with Baton Rouge police officers killing three and injuring several more. The suspect was in military-grade body armor and was eventually shot in the head and killed by attending officers. The racial tension in Baton Rouge and all over Louisiana became very thick. I was living there at this time, and I was only two minutes away when the shootings took place. I spoke with several of my black friends and business associates who thought that things had gotten out of hand. It was becoming difficult to drive through predominantly black neighborhoods if you were a white man without someone being suspicious of your reason for being there. Even the police looked at white people in these neighborhoods with suspicion. Many officers profiled white people in black neighborhoods as someone who was there to buy drugs.

           There are currently 16 Black Lives Matter chapters in the U.S. and Canada with supporters worldwide in the millions. They have since expanded the spectrum of their support and protests to defend black people who are gay, transgender, disabled, and for those with criminal records. The most recent protests have taken place worldwide in a unified protest against the police-related death of 46-year-old George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota when officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes while trying to subdue Floyd. This incident occurred on May 25, 2020. George Floyd was facedown and handcuffed on the street when four officers attempted to arrest him for using a counterfeit bill at a nearby market. Three prevented onlookers from intervening while officer Chauvin apprehended the suspect. Floyd repeatedly told the officer that he couldn’t breathe, and during the last three minutes, Floyd laid motionless and appeared to have no pulse. The officers did not attempt to revive Floyd and Chauvin’s knee remained on his neck until emergency medical technicians took over. Videos provided by onlookers as well as surveillance footage began to circulate internationally online and through other media sources. Two autopsies were performed and the coroner declared the death to be a homicide. Derek Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. The other three officers are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder for their part in preventing onlookers from intervening and not intervening themselves.

           It is police-related incidents like the ones I had mentioned who turn people against the police force. Not all cops are bad and not all cops are racists. It is the ones that are highlighted in the media who make a bad name for the good ones who overlook the racial boundaries and treat all people equally regardless of the color of their skin. The racially-motivated incidents are a very low percentage of the true representation of police forces around the world. Please think of how difficult life would be if we didn’t have someone to call on when our lives were threatened.

           The International support for Black Lives Matter has been astounding and should be taken seriously. If enough people believe in a cause, it will eventually come to fruition and develop into a life-changing resource. I truly hope that one day we will see the end of racial injustice and perhaps we can break down the walls that divide us and be as one community, one family, and one world.


The End.

       

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