folk rock

On April 12, 2015, Freddie Gray was arrested by officers of the Baltimore Police Department. During transport in a police van, Mr. Gray sustained injuries. On April 19, he died. On April 25, what began as a peaceful protest against perceived police brutality turned violent, leading to personal injuries, arrests, looting, and property damage. On April 27, Mr. Gray’s funeral was held and protests continued in Baltimore and elsewhere. Today, Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore State Attorney, announcing that Mr. Gray was unlawfully taken into custody, his death ruled a homicide, and that the six officers involved in his arrest will face a variety of criminal charges, said, in part, “To the people of Baltimore and the demonstrators across America, I heard your call for ‘no justice, no peace.’ Your peace is sincerely needed as I work to deliver justice on behalf of this young man.”

Of all that might be thought and felt, said and written about what for me is another historic moment in the American system of justice – when the death of a black man at the hands of law enforcement is not another data point in business-as-usual, but rather, given the evidence, propels, compels the hand of judicial government to raise and, in effect, to say, “Enough!” – guided by Ms. Mosby’s words, I focus on “the people of Baltimore and the demonstrators across America.”

I see in them an incarnation of the hope in the fulfillment of the American creed, enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, “that all…are created equal (and) endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

I say this because the protesters come from every manner of humankind and every conceivable walk of life – young and old, female and male, gay, lesbian, and straight, employed and unemployed and underemployed, religious and non-religious, “good” people and gang members, politicians and professional athletes, and on and on.

In this, it is clear to me that Freddie Gray’s death (or the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, and, sadly, historically countless others) is not solely a matter of import for the black community.

And, in this, it is clear to me that what matters to the black community will not, cannot be addressed by that one identified and accepted speaker à la Martin Luther King, Jr. or body, whether the NAACP, National Urban League, or Southern Christian Leadership Conference (as I recall a news reporter asking a group of black Baltimoreans, “Who speaks for you?”).

For, in this, it is clear to me that what matters to the black community matters to all communities. Black lives matter because all lives matter.

As this is clear to me, folk – all the folk – rock!

black lives matter?

Trayvon Martin, February 5, 1995-February 26, 2012

Eric Garner, September 15, 1970-July 17, 2014

Michael Brown, May 20, 1996-August 9, 2014

Tamir Rice, June 25, 2002-November 22, 2014

All, two black teenagers, one black man, one black young man, died during encounters with agents acting in the name of law enforcement.

On March 18, 2015, Martese Johnson, a 20-year old, University of Virginia student, was beaten and bloodied during an arrest outside of a Charlottesville bar at the hands of state alcohol control agents.

I hasten to say that I honor the courageous and conscientious service of those called and committed to respect for fair laws and the security and safety of all citizenry.

As swiftly and sadly I must say that I am horrified…

That race relations remain low on the America agenda of things that matter…

That some (and I stress “some,” not all), I will assume, well-meaning folk of whatever color still refer to the above tragedies as “incidents.” For me, this descriptor infers that such deaths and assaults have an immediate circumstantial or individual situational character. That these events are rare or, at very least, uncommon. That those who bore the brunt of the tribulation had a hand in their suffering. That had they acted differently “it” wouldn’t have happened. All this rather than looking at these “incidents” and seeing (and if not able to see, then, at very least, to perceive the possibility of) a pattern of innate discriminatory disregard for people of color that is as true and sorrowfully to date as interminable a trait of our national ethos, our countrywide way of being, as anything else – pick one: the principles of  “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” the dynamic pragmatism of rugged Western individualism, “truth, justice, and the American way,” Mom and apple pie, or “the good ol’ red, white, and blue.”

The deaths of Martin, Garner, Brown, and Rice have launched or rather re-launched a civil rights movement seeking to address, seeking redress of generations of civic blind indifference and conscious contempt for the recognition and observance of universal human dignity. One of the clarion calls is black lives matter. In response, my heart and mind, my soul and spirit declare, Really! In my witness, so far, of the reactions of most (and I stress “most,” not all) in authority, I inquire, Really?

race & police – a word (ray) of hope

This past Thursday, James Comey, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in a speech at Georgetown University, Washington, DC, addressed, with what I consider stunning candor, the issue of community policing and race relations. Among his remarks: “I worry that this incredibly important and difficult conversation about race and policing has become focused entirely on the nature and character of law enforcement officers…Debating the nature of policing is very important, but I worry that it has become an excuse at times to avoid doing something harder.”

Doubtless by necessity (for sometimes the obvious must be reiterated), Comey cited the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner at the hands of police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, in August and on Staten Island in July, respectively, and the December ambush shooting deaths of New York City police officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. By this, he highlighted a tragically turbulent year for minority communities and law enforcement.

Then he spoke openly and honestly, compellingly and critically of the prejudices present in how minorities perceive they are viewed by the police and in how police view minorities.

Others have addressed these concerns. Among them, President Obama, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, and New York City mayor William De Blasio; although critics have charged each of them as favoring minority groups over support for law officers. Reflecting on the even-handed balance of Comey’s commentary, given who he is and the stature of his office, I pray that our national conversation about race and the law will bear soon to blossom fruit of deeper, mutual understanding.