D Kevin McNeirEditor's ColumnOpinion

EDITOR’S COLUMN: American Justice Still a Portrait Defined by Race

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

In 1903, W. E. B. Du Bois prophetically stated: “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.”

It is a well-known sentence that is rarely quoted completely. Du Bois goes on to describe the color line as “the question of how far differences of race … will hereafter be made the basis of denying to over half the world the right of sharing to their utmost ability the opportunities and privileges of modern civilization.”

In “The Souls of Black Folk,” he goes on to say it is “the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea,” later adding, “it was a phase of this problem that caused the Civil War.”

Yes, the more things change the more they remain the same.

Since the news first broke of the police-involved murder of George Floyd on May 25, cities across the U.S. have erupted with protests, riots, burnings, prayer vigils and incessant cries for justice. Justice for all.

Ever the optimist, until perhaps his last days of life, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. exclaimed in his incomparable “I Have A Dream,” “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

That was the crux of his speech which he delivered at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. And still we await the day when Dr. King’s prayer — his hope for tomorrow — will become our reality.

Here in the District just a few nights ago, I watched in horror as over 1,000 mostly-peaceful protesters were corralled into dead-end streets, beaten with batons, subjected to tear gas and arrested as the Trump administration unjustly flexed its muscles.

On June 3, reports now indicate that the decision to pounce aggressively on a crowd of protesters — citizens exercising their fundamental rights — came upon the bequest of Attorney General William P. Barr who personally ordered law enforcement officials to clear the streets around Lafayette Square. It seems that once again, the president has passed the buck.

Still, one must question if clearing the streets so that Trump could pose with a Bible in hand on the steps of St. John’s Episcopal Church merited the doling out of incalculable pain and suffering experienced by a throng of protesters on the evening of June 1.

In an interview earlier on June 1, Benjamin Crump, the attorney for the family of George Floyd, shared the following with this reporter and other members of the Black Press.

“The family of George Floyd, seeing what has taken place since his tragic death, wants me to ask America to take a breath,” Crump said. “Take a breath for peace, take a breath for justice, take a breath in order to heal out country and take a breath for George.”

“Before his death, he [George] prayed for peace in Ferguson, Baltimore — even in Sacramento. As we prepare to bury George, let’s all take a breath to heal our country — let’s take a breath for George,” Crump said.

Breathing, or the inability to do so, has become a fundamental concern here in the U.S. and around the globe, given the health pandemic we continue to face and to battle. Prior to COVID-19, maybe we all took for granted how important the routine practice of inhaling and exhaling remain to keeping us alive.

The murder of George Floyd, following a long string of other Black men and women whose lives were prematurely snuffed out at the hands of police or want-to-be police officers, reminds us how important — how vital — it is to maintain the right to breathe.

I called my youngest child, my son Jared who’s 26 and lives in Harlem last night. After a few perfunctory hellos and how are you doings, I asked him if he had been out protesting with others in New York City. He told he had not. Then I asked him to stay out of the mix — away from the skirmishes. I know that some of his friends are following their hearts and participating in acts of public protest.

Yes, they are within their rights. But I only have one son. And I do not want to lose him like the mother of George Floyd who must now, somehow, deal with this recent, senseless tragedy.

With his dying breath, we know Floyd called out to his mother one last time, hoping she could alleviate his pain and supply him with life — with breath.

I do not want to lose my son like Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin lost theirs, Trayvon White.

Tracy would say, years ago, “if he had been white this would not have happened,” referring to the murder of his 17-year-old son.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. But everything must change — somehow, someway, someday.

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D. Kevin McNeir – Senior Editor

Award-winning journalist and 21-year Black Press veteran, book editor, voice-over specialist and college instructor (Philosophy, Religion, Journalism). Before joining us, he led the Miami Times to recognition as NNPA Publication of the Year.

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