Where Is My Black Body Safe in America?

July 31, 2015 at 12:40 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Sandra Bland

Guest editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

Like so many African American women, myself included, Sandra Bland’s death, resulting from police brutality is not new news. The national attention it’s receiving is, however.

The reality of unarmed African American women being beaten, profiled, sexually violated and murdered by law enforcement officials with alarming regularity is too often ignored – especially with the focus of police brutality on African American males.

And when gender identity and sexual orientation come into play, the treatment by police can be harsher. For example, my spouse, who would drive her new BMW (a vehicle cops believe is stolen if a black male is behind the wheel) to and from work, was stopped suspiciously too often for the classic case of “driving while black.” And when the Cambridge cops realized she’s a woman, and a lesbian one at that, their unbridled homophobia surfaced. My spouse now takes the bus or walks to work as much as she can due to the trauma from the constant shakedowns.

A new report and campaign called “Say Her Name” addresses the lack of reporting, documenting, and accounting for the violations and death of African American women and girls at the hand of law enforcement officials.

Just last July, Marlene Pinnock’s, 51, beating by California Highway Patrol officer Daniel Andrew was captured by a passing driver and spread widely on both internet and television. With Andrew straddling Pinnock on the ground and pummeling her with his fist, Pinnock told CBS News “He was trying to beat me to death….take my life away. For no reason. I did nothing to him.”

While it is not shocking news that African American women are arrested more often than white women in any given city across the country, what is shocking is the rate at which we are.

For example, a new report from the Center on Criminal and Juvenile Justice reveals that while African American women in San Francisco comprise of approximately 5.8 percent of the city’s female population, they make up 47 percent of female arrests. And these arrests too often result in death.

African American sisters like Rekia Boyd (March 2012, Chicago), Kimberlee ­Randle-King (September 2014, St. Louis), and Natasha McKenna (April 2015, Fairfax County, Virginia), to name just a few, are lives cut too short at the hands of law enforcement officials. While the country was reeling from the news of Bland’s death of July 13th, 18-year-old Kindra Chapman of Alabama was found dead in her jail cell following day.

Oddly, Randle-King’s, Bland’s and now Chapman’s death are all explained away as “self-inflicted asphyxiation,” a form of suicide extremely uncommon among African Americans given our not-to-distant relationship with this country’s history of lynching. And while African American women comprise the largest demographic group of females incarcerated, statistics reveal that black women committing suicide is the lowest of all groups, and hanging is not our method of choice.

The perceptions and stereotypes of African American women—combative, mouthy, not deferential enough and “angry black woman”—can sadly turn into deadly action as we see with Bland. Bland’s crime is what’s described as “contempt of cop.” She wasn’t obsequious or subservient enough when the officer asked her to extinguish her cigarette. And for something as minor as a traffic signal violation, the incident escalated out of control. But when the dominant culture doesn’t see and hear African-American voices about our pains, fears, vulnerabilities our humanity is distorted and made invisible through a prism of racist and sexist stereotypes. So, too, is our suffering.

When Bland was found hanging from a noose made of plastic bags in her Waller County jail cell, the coroner’s report corroborated the claim stating there were no obvious signs of such a violent struggle. But like Bland’s family and friends, I, too, cry out foul play. And it’s because of Waller County’s long and boastful history for keeping blacks in their place, and lynching was the preferred method.

I posit that if Bland did not commit suicide then clearly it was a lynching—a reality in 2015 too harsh and hard to fathom, even in a remote and still racially segregated corner of Texas.

But Waller County, which is less than an hour north of Houston, was a county notorious for lynching, and old habits die hard, if they die at all. The Equal Justice Initiative states that African Americans were lynched disproportionately higher in Waller County than in any other county in the state between 1877 and 1950. The memories of family and friends lynched still lives on in the collective oral history of Waller County’s African American community. “In this county, they’ve been hanging and killing Negroes since the Civil War.” an old buddy of Bland’s, Holice Cook, told the Washington Post.

When Bland tweeted on April 8th “AT FIRST THEY USED A NOOSE, NOW ALL THEY DO IS SHOOT #BlackLivesMatter #SandySpeaks,” she, too, could not fathom such act.

But with the recent deaths of Randle-King’s, Chapman’s and Bland’s there’s a pattern evolving, one in which sadly we cannot conclusively hang up the thought of lynching for good.

Rev. Irene MonroeRev. Irene Monroe of Cambridge is a syndicated religion columnist and Huffington Post blogger. Rev. Monroe is also weekly contributor to WGBH’s Boston Public Radio “All Revved Up” segment.

Removing The Confederate Flag Is Not A Victory, It’s An Icebreaker

July 14, 2015 at 3:41 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Guest editorial by Emmett G. Price, III

Now that the confederate battle flag has been successfully removed from the South Carolina State House can we get back to the real work of healing our fractured, fragmented and frayed nation?

Although South Carolina’s senate easily cleared the 2/3 majority with a 37-3 vote in favor of removing the flag, the House of Representatives took a different course of action. Wednesday’s debate, lasting over 12 hours, included some interesting filibustering tactics by Rep. Mike Pitts (R-Laurens) who is opposed to removing the flag. Ultimately, with a 94-20 vote the Representatives passed the senate’s bill and with the stroke of her pen, Governor Nikki Haley, who until recently staunchly opposed the removal of the flag, removed the flag.

The removal of the flag and the tangential debate over heritage vs. hate is not a culminating sign of victory, in fact, thinking such is a greater insult than the flag’s presence as a representation of all South Carolinians for the past 54 years. The presence of the flag remains a clear reminder of South Carolinian lawmaker’s objection to national civil rights legislation during the 1960s; legislation that not all South Carolinians opposed. The major issue with the presence of the Confederate Battle Flag at the State House is the flag’s past as a representation of racist ideologies.

The initial incarnation of the flag, nicknamed “stars and bars,” was first flown in 1861 and was redesigned a number of times in subsequent years. The current battle flag was actually made popular during Governor Strom Thurmond’s 1948 presidential campaign. Under the short-lived political party, States’ Rights Democratic Party (also known as the Dixiecrats) Thurmond ran on a platform that was pro-segregation, anti-miscegenation and focused on protecting “the southern way of life.” Campaigners and campaign related events donned the confederate battle flag as one of their representative emblems.

The battle flag was initially raised over the State House in 1961 to commemorate the inaugural battle of the civil war at Fort Sumter. Thirty nine years later, as a result of the Heritage Act, the flag was moved to a separate flagpole next to a memorial in honor of fallen Confederate soldiers leaving South Carolina’s state flag and “Old Glory,” the flag of the United States of America, flying above the State House dome.

Over the years there have been numerous campaigns, initiatives and attempts to have the flag removed from the State House grounds. It is unfortunate that it took the death of Rev. Clementa Pinckney and eight prayer warriors of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church to stimulate a local conversation with national impact. Let it be known that their death did not bring about a race war, but a recommitment to the pledge that we all know so well. A pledge to an indivisible nation, one with the promise of “liberty and justice for all.”

Now that the flag is down, can we get back to the real work of engaging in sustained conversations on race, race relations and racial reconciliation? If that is too much to ask let us return to the unfinished work of the founding patriarchs, to provide equal access to “certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The removal of the flag is not the victory; it is the icebreaker.

Emmett PriceEmmett G. Price III, Ph.D. is a pastor, professor and weekly contributor to WGBH’s Boston Public Radio “All Revved Up” segment. He is the author of Hip Hop Culture and editor of several works including The Black Church and Hip Hop Culture: Toward Bridging the Generational Divide. Follow him on Twitter.

The welcome challenges of marriage equality

July 14, 2015 at 11:02 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Guest editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

For some time now, my spouse and I have been bickering over where we should live in our retirement years. She, being a child from the South, and me, being from the North, well, we have our tensions. I have jokingly dubbed them our “Mason-Dixon line feud.” We are not stretching our imaginations much to feel some of the same concerns our enslaved ancestors must have encountered as they considered the free states up North.

My spouse is tied to the weather of the South — a moist, subtropical climate with sultry summers. I like the four seasons of the North, but could live in autumn all year round.

During particularly heated battles, I have questioned if her desire to live in Georgia was worth living in a state that didn’t recognize our marriage. Our marriage would be de facto dissolved.

Our ongoing exhaustive argument gained a new complication (in my mind, at least) with last week’s historic Supreme Court ruling — Obergefell v. Hodge — that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy was once again the swing vote on this tough ruling. Kennedy wrote all recent decisions protecting LGBTQ rights, including the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas — which struck down sodomy laws that targeted gay men; and the 2013 US v. Windsor — recognizing and providing federal benefits to same-sex married couple in states where their marriages were legal. His argument last week was Loving v. Virginia (1967) redux, showing how these two historic struggles for marriage equality are interconnected.

Of course, I applaud the Supreme Court’s decision. It would have been both wrong-hearted and wrong-headed to rule otherwise.

But with victory comes backlash. This change in law will not come easy. A movement is already afoot with a 50-state plan to pass “Religious Freedom Restoration” acts to roll back progress.

As the country battles this issue on a new front, we should hold on to Thomas Jefferson’s words about how change is required for progress:

“I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But . . . laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times.”

Same-sex marriage is of our times. And it’s democracy at its best.

I understand democracy to be an ongoing process, where people are part of a participatory government working to dismantle all existing discriminatory laws truncating their full participation in society.

But democracy can only begin to work when those relegated to the fringes of society can sample what those in society take for granted as their inalienable rights. The right to marry regardless of a couple’s sexual orientation or gender identity is now one of them. How wonderful to know that a same-sex couple in Mississippi has the same right to marry as someone here in Massachusetts.

Back to the challenge in my home: My spouse is all smiles now with this new ruling. She has been doing what I call “nicey nicey,” which is her way of using charm to wear down my recalcitrant stance on issues.

In celebration of Obergefell v. Hodge we went out for drinks at Legal Sea Foods in Harvard Square. While enjoying the evening summer breeze, my spouse said we could have this experience all year if we moved to a milder climate.

I snapped back and said, “I ain’t moving to Georgia!”

And that’s what marriage equality looks like.

Rev. Irene MonroeRev. Irene Monroe of Cambridge is a syndicated religion columnist and Huffington Post blogger.  Rev. Monroe is also weekly contributor to WGBH’s Boston Public Radio “All Revved Up” segment.

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