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Being a Black Man in America • Daily Montanan

Being a Black Man in America • Daily Montanan


The summer after the world witnessed the brutal beating of Rodney King, I and a group of friends went to a nightclub in south Dade County, Florida. We had recently returned to America after spending months in Saudi Arabia, unsure if we would ever see our families again or face lingering illness resulting from our service back home.

We returned as veterans and this nation welcomed us as heroes.

Well the heroes needed a night out so we went to the club to have a good time. I distinctly remember someone saying that Black Entertainment Television was supposed to be at this particular club that night, but as soon as we got there we realized the chances of that happening were zero because the cable network that carried Rap City usually didn't show a message in such a small venue.

The evening started normally. We had a great time and left around 3am with the intention of going to 7-Eleven for some gas station nachos before heading back to base.

We returned from the Middle East hailed as heroes. But just days after our return, neither our military service nor our innocence meant anything as the four of us, all black men, stood in front of six Florida police officers, all with our weapons drawn.

About three blocks from the club we saw blue lights everywhere. There were so many blue lights flashing that I thought maybe a spaceship had landed in South Florida or the abduction had taken place. Once the car stopped, the source of the flashing lights became clear when we heard a voice that seemed to come from the sky say: Get out of the car with your hands in the air! If you move, we'll blow your head off! As I got out of the car, I noticed that six of the officers had their weapons drawn. All. I don't remember being scared, but I distinctly remember noticing how the blue lights seemed to dance from one gun to the next and thinking that it was the potential yellow flashes I had to worry about. 'worry.

We protested saying that we had done nothing, that we were soldiers and we asked why did you arrest us? Turns out we fit the description of someone they were looking for, even though I never understood what that person looked like. After searching the car and finding half-drained three-hour-olds, an officer pulled a .25 caliber automatic from my friends' glove compartment. They reacted as if they had found a .50 caliber machine gun, handcuffed him and took him to jail. Shortly after, the police told us to go home after discovering that we had no outstanding arrest warrants.

After our friends were released, we went to find him and talked about what had happened. I remember leaving that conversation realizing that as black men, we are born suspects from the moment our mothers give birth to us until we leave it. Days before this event, we were hailed as heroes, but that night neither our military service, demonstrated by our military ID, nor our fervent assertions of innocence meant anything. Our skin was our sin; our crime. Had we acted on the frustration or legitimate anger and indignation we felt that night, our bullet-riddled corpses along with the history of supposedly nefarious activity we were engaged in committed would likely have been returned to our grieving mothers in Tallahassee, Chicago, Pascagoula and Philadelphia for burial.

Watching the video of the beating that led to the death of Tire Nichols, I thought about how this act that night in Memphis was connected to our incident in Dade County and the more deadly interactions between the police and black Americans that led to deaths. and the public executions of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Michael Brown, Philando Castille and others across this country. Indeed, the behavior exhibited by the police officers that night in 1991 was consistent with an idea as old as America's founding, an idea that is embedded in many of its institutions and that manifests itself today regardless of who works there , namely this African. Americans are inferior and their lives are less valuable than those of other Americans.

The results on this subject are clear. Just look through the laws passed in antebellum America regarding enslaved and free black people, look at the power granted to slave patrols, and discover how a feature of life for many in the United States was to minimize or ignore screaming, pain and trauma. resulting from the slavery of African Americans to see it. The use of terror from the creation of the Ku Klux Klan here in Tennessee a few months after the end of the Civil War to Jim Crow to the creation of a Scorpion unit to control a segment of the black population of Memphis also confirms this.

Violence and the threat of violence against Black bodies, groups, and communities have been and continue to be a hallmark of the African American experience in the United States. The perpetrators of this violence have changed, but the institutions that empowered them, protected them, and enthusiastically blessed their actions have not.

We must understand that we still face anti-Black racism in almost every aspect of American society, and that its consequences can be deadly for people who look like Nichols and their communities. For me, as a scholar of American history, a descendant of people who were brought here in chains, and an honorably discharged veteran, it is extremely frustrating to see that our consistent response has been to overwhelmingly support the perpetrators while simultaneously silencing or turning a blind eye to the instances of pain and sorrow that bombard our senses with every incident. Worse, we treat these events as if they were happening in isolation and often come to the erroneous conclusion that increasing funding for these institutions, giving them access to weapons designed for waging war, and limiting their oversight is the best way to move forward.

Although I did not know Tire Nichols personally, I intuitively knew the fear he felt when he first realized he had been stopped by the police and that this fear had not lessened because the police had black faces. The pain felt by his mother and the rage felt by the black citizens of Memphis at the senseless violence and loss of black lives were recognizable to me as I remembered reading African American accounts of the role of city ​​as the largest slave port in Tennessee during the antebellum period. the Memphis Massacre of 1866 and its responses to the brutal lynchings of three of its citizens that led to Ida B. Wells' anti-lynching crusade. The type of grief Nichols' mother felt upon hearing the news of her son's murder has been shared by black women in Memphis for more than two centuries.

Finally, I reflected on how the phrase I AM A Man became a call sign that affirmed the humanity of black sanitation workers in Memphis in 1968, and how this simple but eloquent statement was largely ignored in our history and continues to be the case. when it comes to African Americans.

Nichols' senseless death at the hands of police provides America with a new opportunity to do better by its African American citizens. He should have been given as much mercy during this traffic stop as a white woman would have been if she had been arrested in Collierville. The America in which something like this would happen is my fervent hope and something I'm working toward, but as I get older it seems more like a fanciful fantasy.

This commentary was originally produced by theTennessee Lookout which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news organizations, including the Daily Montanan, supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity.




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