Right around December 1, when everyone was rightfully talking about the anniversary of Rosa Parks’ 1955 refusal to cede her seat in a Birmingham bus, one of the Twitter pals of Arthur Tweeted, “Do some research on Claudette Colvin, sidelined as she didn’t have the right ‘look’ of a true heroine”. Arthur wanted my thoughts on that, maybe on March 2, 2015, which is the 60th anniversary of Colvin’s arrest — the first arrest for resisting bus segregation.
As it turns out, I DID write about Claudette Colvin, almost five years ago, and I don’t have much more to say.
Seems to me this raises issues of expediency — deliberately choosing the best “face” to put on an issue (something I know LGBT activists have done, too), and also how quaint such outdated social mores seem to us now. But it seems to me it also raises issues of elevating sidelined pioneers in struggles for justice because we don’t look down on people like that nowadays.
I think it still happens, all the time. And it has to do, among other things, with young black men getting shot by police, or in Trayvon Martin’s case in Florida, by a wannabe cop. So the narrative becomes whether any of these victims is the “right” one to galvanize a nation seemingly willing to allow for the idea that each of the shootings was justified.
Thus, in Florida, Trayvon Martin is turned into a “thug” who may have smoked pot. Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO is a “thug,” who stole some tobacco product before he was killed.
How about Eric Garner in New York City? He was allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk, but the police action that led to his death was ON VIDEO. The fact that the grand jury, in this case, failed to indict Daniel Pantaleo, shortly after Darren Wilson was not indicted by the grand jury in Missouri, seems to be the tipping point, with demonstrations all around the country.
It is the perception that the PROCESS is broken. Read the New York Times editorial. Well, unless you’re Pat Robertson, who believes police brutality against blacks is a thing of the past. Or the more pervasive view of CONTINUING to parse every case to find some fault of the victim.
Former Republic National Committee head Michael Steele complained about a lack of indictment in the Garner case. Even former President George W. Bush found the decision “hard to understand.”
Why is it that white men wave real guns around crowded areas in America and are taken into custody alive, yet Tamir Rice, a 12-year old carrying a toy gun in an open-carry state, is dead? In part, I think it’s the fact that both the police and the general (white) public actually view black kids as older and less innocent than white kids. Thus the suggestion that the 12-year-old boy in Cleveland killed by police might have been 20. (But shooting a 20-year-old unarmed black man would not have been OK either.)
These cases seem to be piling up recently, with the shooting death by police of 34-year-old Rumain Brisbon in Phoenix, AZ, a black man armed only with a bottle of Oxycotin pain medicine. Then there’s 22-year-old Darrien Hunt, who was shot in the back six times by Utah cops. He had a cosplay sword; no charges were filed. Read this article about the decline of police deaths, even as civilian deaths from police actions have increased.
I am actually excited that the demonstrations are taking place in locations NOT involved in these shootings. What makes me guardedly hopeful about the future is a large number of young white demonstrators; it’s not just a “black issue” anymore.
I recently posted on my Facebook Ezekiel 13:10 New International Version
Because they lead my people astray, saying, “Peace,” when there is no peace, and because, when a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash.”
Make of that what you will.
Finally, from Arthur:
Seems to me that change usually happens because of the people who are NOT the smug, self-satisfied folks who try and dictate who is and who is not an “appropriate” symbol for a change movement. I seem to remember this one guy who was born in a stable and grew up to hang out with prostitutes, tax collectors, and all sorts of marginalised people, a guy who lost his temper and wrecked a market, disrupting businesses, before eventually being executed under questionable circumstances by the government. That’s one thuggish guy people don’t seem to mind as a symbol, even if they choose to ignore many parts of the story.