Tag: Missouri

We Don’t Want You Here…

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University of Missouri Football Team with Jonathan Butler
Jonathan Butler addresses a crowd following the announcement that University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe would resign, Monday, Nov. 9, 2015, at the university in Columbia, Mo. Butler has ended his hunger strike as a result of the resignation. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Jonathan Butler addresses a crowd following the announcement that University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe would resign, Monday, Nov. 9, 2015, at the university in Columbia, Mo. Butler has ended his hunger strike as a result of the resignation. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

In the past week, students University of Missouri have been engaged in an act of protest, showing solidarity in response injustices that are happening in their school. Graduate student Jonathan Butler has been on a week long hunger strike to protest the horrors that he had been dealing with on the University of Missouri campus, and the failure of the administration to act.  Once the football team learned of Butler’s courageous act, they refused to play football until University President Tim Wolfe stepped down.

The issues that Butler and other students have confronted include a swastika scrawled in human excrement; racial slurs, and physical confrontations resulting in an environment of racial tension directed at the African-American students, which was especially heightened around the re-election of President Obama; and cutting of health care services for graduate students. The school seems to have stood silent and done nothing.  One poignant story that Butler recounted on the Tom Joyner Morning Show in an interview yesterday was a how a young lady was raped on campus, and reported the rape to student services. Student services did nothing, and the resulting trauma led to the young lady taking her life.

The tipping point came when Butler engaged in his hunger strike.  Several African American members of the football team approached him, concerned for his life (as reported in the Kansas City Star).  They engaged in a discussion, then approached their teammates — both White and African American, who agreed to refuse to play until the president stepped down. Coach Gary Pinkel, also White, supported them as well.

What has struck me is not only the strength of these young students, but the backlash they have received on social media. It is clear that some of these folks have not bothered to read what their grievances are. Some of the comments read:

“oh, they should be happy to be in that school. Playing football is a privilege.”

The only reason they are there is because they play football. They should starve and be kicked out of school.”

The comments, of course, devolved into a more racist nature from there.  I leave you to use your imagination and fill in the blanks.

The other interesting comment was made by Tom Joyner on his morning show, and by J Anthony Brown, where they said that if the students had went to a Historically Black College or University (HBCU), they would not have to confront racism.

My question is this: do we bow to “we don’t want you here?”

What would have happened if Rosa Parks stood silent, and accepted that she was not wanted on the front of the bus? What would have happened if Dr. Martin Luther King had heeded the warnings of others to stay in silent when he saw injustices, and not go where he was not wanted? What if others had decided that segregated schools were just good enough, and not fought for equal opportunities?

The Missouri students learned the priceless lesson of unifying behind the cause of justice, and in their determination, brought many races together, while enlightening others. They would not have learned that in practice at an HBCU; only the theory from the history books. In one climactic day, Jonathan Butler brought together the faculty, who walked out of the classroom to support him, the football team, the Jewish student union and the African-American students in solidarity. To go on a hunger strike is not a trivial matter. Try going without food for a day. Was it easy? Now do it for a week for a cause you believe in. Jonathan Butler was ready to die for his beliefs. The young men of the football team stood up against pressure to play on behalf of the university, and showed courage beyond their years. As a result of the protests, the president and the chancellor resigned.

Their voices were heard, and change resulted. This has always been the catalyst for change in this country — from slavery, to voting, to equal rights for all.

“We don’t want you here” has not worked to keep women out of the workplace, African Americans from succeeding, immigrants from pursuing their dreams, gays from marrying and countless others from finding their purpose. Too many sacrificed their lives for any of us to make choices in the spirit of fear of reprisals due to discrimination, racism, or any other ism/phobia.  The choice is ours and the sky is the limit!!

Keep pushing. Keep fighting. Well done young men, you have made those whose shoulders you have stood upon proud.

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Knowledge Trumps Racism (a multi-part series)

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I’ve stayed pretty quiet in recent weeks, absorbing all that has been going on. One thing is incredibly clear; education is needed on both sides. If we don’t know the rules that govern us, as well as our past, we are doomed for the future.  If we don’t understand each other, we are doomed period.

So here is Part 1 of my series entitled “Knowledge Trumps Racism” — because as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said, knowledge is power.

I start from a historical perspective —  David Ovalle from the Miami Herald wrote a very thoughtful piece on the last time a police officer was indicted in Miami for a shooting death in the line of duty.  It was 25 years ago last Sunday, and left a long legacy.

In a city long torn by racial tension, a uniformed police officer fatally shot a black man. Days of upheaval and rioting riveted the nation.

A series of investigations scrutinized the officer’s use of deadly force. He claimed self-defense. Would the cop face criminal charges?

The case that exploded in Miami in 1989 still resonates today, echoing the murky, racially charged confrontation that has put a 24/7 media spotlight on the small Missouri town of Ferguson.

Twenty five years ago Sunday, after a trial that lives on in local legal lore, jurors convicted Miami Police Officer William Lozano for shooting and killing a motorcyclist. It was the last time any police officer in Florida was convicted for an on-duty shooting.

Read more here.

Black Voters in St. Louis County Switching Parties?

Since it is 20 days away from election day, I’m shifting my focus to politics and the law. I am a firm believer in educating yourself on the issues and knowing what you are voting for.  All elections are critical, not just the presidential years!

vote-smart-button An interesting article was published by the Associated Press today, indicating that the frustrations of the community in St. Louis have risen to new heights.  There has been a movement by some African American voters in St. Louis County, in response to the events in Ferguson, to vote for Republican candidates in the upcoming election. The feeling is that the Democrats in power, from the local level to the governor’s office, have ignored the needs of the community that has supported them faithfully for decades.

The emotion that some voters have of being “used” is not uncommon.  Time after time, candidates and elected officials across the country appear in the communities that need them the most only during the election cycle; they are not seen again until the next election.  Certainly, those politicians should be held accountable.

But as the old phrase goes, “look deep before you leap”.

Make sure to research whoever you are voting for.  Votes should not be cast out of anger, or revenge, because it is the community who suffers in the end.  Take a look at each candidate, and look at where they stand on ALL the issues.  If they are in the legislature, pull their voting history.  Look at what organizations or charities the candidate dedicated his or her time to.  These are all signs of whether or not the candidate’s interests align with yours.

If the Republican candidate appeals to you across the board, fine.

If you find that your values are not compatible, then the next best strategy is to put pressure on the leaders of your local Democratic party, letting them know that the current slate is unacceptable.  Find a candidate and back them, whether via write in, or a grassroots movement. As we have seen in recent history, social media is a powerful tool in getting information, and creating campaigns. This is why it is critical to vote in your party’s primaries — the primary votes send a clear message to the party as to whether or not an elected official is on the right track.

Another article came out today indicating that a record number of African Americans are seeking elected office right now.  Some of those candidates are running as Republicans. See the article here. This is a perfect example of taking charge of your destiny, and being the change you want to see.

Food for thought!

M.

The Depths of Racial Profiling

As the events in Ferguson continue to unfold, I am constantly reminded of the divide in the policing experiences of many Americans. The Pew Report came out with an interesting study regarding perceptions of the problems in Ferguson, and sadly, it went firmly along racial lines. White Americans thought justice will prevail; African Americans did not.

This gets to the heart of the issue. If you (or those around you) have negative experiences with police while growing up, you will never believe the system is fair.

Looking back, I can think of one such encounter. Growing up in a beautiful waterfront community in suburban New York, my father loved to take me to the park. He would play games with me, walk with me along the water, and listen to my little girl chatter. One day, a police vehicle drove by. The car returned, and began to slowly circle, watching us.

I, of course, was oblivious. It can be a joy to be young and naive.

My father, however, got the message.

The message wasn’t “oh how cute, look at this man and his little girl”

It was “YOU DON’T BELONG HERE“.

Rather than risk an unpleasant encounter, he cut our day short and took me home.

Maybe I didn’t mention it before — I grew up in a predominantly White community.

And another additional fact: my father never wore jeans or sneakers. To this day, he wears slacks, a polo or button down shirt, and a proper British hat, weather permitting. So this was not an issue of fashion, or fitting the description of a call regarding a criminal act.

This is an issue with no easy answers. I just encourage everyone not to assume, and LISTEN to what the deeper issues are.

Here is one man’s experience with profiling that really struck me. Even though he did everything society would expect, he was profiled as a student at Harvard. One quote from his article that struck me was that being racially profiled was a rite of passage as an African American into manhood, similar to a Jewish bar mitzvah. Read Madison Shockley’s article here.

My dad and mom circa 2004
My dad and mom circa 2004

What Do We Tell Our Sons?

The funeral of Michael Brown today is another chapter in an ongoing tragedy. In moving forward from here, the discussion needs to be had regarding what do we tell our children about how to interact with police? How should we interact with police?

Essence.com published my tips this weekend:

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In the wake of the Mike Brown shooting in Ferguson, Mo., as well as the chokehold death of Eric Garner in New York, and the others killed by police in questionable circumstances, the question is “What do we tell our children about interacting with the police?” It’s not about assigning blame on the victims’ actions. It’s about arming our young people with knowledge that could help save them in the future.

Pull right over. If your child is driving a car, and sees police lights in the rearview mirror, he or she should pull over immediately.  If it is not safe to pull over immediately, slow your speed and signal that you are pulling over. Failure to pull over puts police officers on high alert that there may be a problem (even if there isn’t one). Think about it from a police officer’s perspective. Why wouldn’t you stop? Do you have an open warrant? Do you have guns or drugs in the car? Based on their occupation, police officers are trained to assume the worst in every situation.

Read the rest of the article here