In 1991, Latasha Harlins was shot in the back of her head and killed by Soon Ja Du, a Korean store owner in Los Angeles. Du was sentenced to a $500 fine, 400 hours of community service, and five years’ probation by Judge Joyce Karlin –who ignored the maximum penalty of 16 years in prison for voluntary manslaughter.
This case and the outrage it brought foreshadowed the L.A. civil unrest now known as the Rodney King Riot in 1992. Since that time thousands of Black men, women, and children have been killed – 1,134 by police officers in 2015, according to The Guardian newspaper. In Chicago alone, there have been 1,454 shootings and 279 people killed as of June 2016 – 207 of whom were Black.
If members of any other group in this country were being killed at the same rate as Black folks, there would be a collective outrage and indignation such that the problem would be addressed – if not solved – almost immediately.
On the economic side of things, look at the Orlando shootings. Days after that tragedy, $4 million was raised for the victims – twice the previous GoFundMe crowdfunding record of $2 million – and all we hear in the news reports is advocacy for the “LGBT community.”
When have we heard so much sympathy and advocacy for Black folks? When have we raised significant amounts of money for Black victims? When have we seen LGBT news reporters take commercial breaks in order to shed tears for Black victims? If Tamir Rice didn’t make that happen, nothing will.
Money is pouring into Orlando from private corporations, in part because LGBTs are willing to leverage their dollars in return for corporate support. (Don’t be mad at them; that’s what we should be doing.) The Orlando Magic, Disney, the Florida baseball teams, and Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, have given money and other support in the aftermath of the latest shootings. Even GoFundMe waived its $100,000 transaction fee on the contributions made by more than 90,000 contributions.
Over the past three years, we have also seen corporations use their power to affect political change on behalf of LGBTs. Yet corporations, despite earning much of their profit from Black consumers, did virtually nothing for Eric Garner’s family, Sandra Bland’s family, John Crawford’s family, or Ezell Ford’s family. Why not?
Politically speaking, while 20 bullet-riddled bodies of children in Sandy Hook couldn’t move them, politicians will surely act now on gun law legislation because many of those killed in Orlando were LGBT, the NRA notwithstanding. What if that had been a Black club?
Plead our causes
So, do our lives matter? And who are we trying to convince that they do matter?
First, our lives must matter to us. We must be just as willing to bring our causes to the forefront as gay people and other groups are. We should see red, black, and green colors everywhere when we are killed or aggrieved. No one else is going to do that for us, so we must do it for ourselves.
Are we afraid? Ashamed? Apathetic? Where does this leave Black people?
Latasha Harlins, Tamir Rice, and all of those killed in between and since, are calling out from their graves for us to respond appropriately to what happened to them. Our charge is to make our lives matter to us, first and foremost, and then show a united front to this nation that we will not be relegated to a subordinate class and continue to be ignored, dismissed, and trampled upon by groups that continually parlay our misery into their benefit.
Until other groups begin to support us the way we have supported them in this country throughout history, we must commit ourselves to a “Never Again” approach and take charge of our own destiny, our own causes, and our own security.
James E. Clingman’s latest book, “Black Dollars Matter! Teach Your Dollars How to Make More Sense,” is available on his website, Blackonomics.com.