Time will tell if protests are a moment or movement

The total disregard for George Floyd as a human being, coupled with a hatred for the Black community that Officer Derek Chauvin took an oath to protect and serve, led to the lynching on May 25.

Chauvin was sending a message to the community by holding his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck in broad daylight. “Black people, know your place, understand your place and stay in your place.”

Even the knowledge that he was being videotaped didn’t deter Chauvin. His inhumanity towards Mr. Floyd as his life was slowly choked out of his handcuffed body emanates from America’s historic inhumanity towards people of color since Tristan de Luna established the short-lived settlement at Pensacola Bay in 1559.

This hatred is woven into the very fabric of America. It is in the founding documents of this country. It’s evident in Supreme Court decisions and the blowback from America’s dominant culture to any modicum of success achieved by African Americans.

History of dehumanization

Our ancestors were brought to these shores for only one purpose: free labor. Our task was to perform all the requisite dirty work to build an economy and empire for Europe.

The so-called “Christians” who swore in the Mayflower Compact of 1620 that they undertook, “…for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern Parts of Virginia…” could not reconcile their inhumane treatment of their African captives with their “Christianity”.

To absolve themselves of the dilemma posed by the true Christian ethic that God created man in his own image, the Europeans slowly dehumanized their captives and codified this in law and constitution.

By 1669, the enslaved were no longer persons, they were no longer human; they were property.

The Constitution gave us the Three Fifths Compromise, the Fugitive Slave Provision (the constitutional validation for slave patrols, the early form of American policing) and allowed for the importation of enslaved Africans for twenty years, until January 1, 1808.

In 1857 the Supreme Court via Chief Justice Taney gave us the Dred Scott decision, validating the belief that all Blacks — enslaved as well as free — were not and could
never become citizens of the United States. The framers of the Constitution, he wrote, believed that Blacks “had no rights which the White man was bound to respect…”

These are a few examples of what is meant by structural or “institutional racism”. Stripping our ancestors of their humanity, relegating them to the position of property or things and codifying it in the founding documents and court decisions of this country.

The real crux

Yes, there has been legislation and court decisions that have amended and/or eliminated many of these laws from the books. The Brown decision, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act were all great legal and legislative advancements.

This progress has lulled us to sleep with a false sense of accomplishment and optimism. The reality remains that legislation alone does not do anything to disabuse those in power and those they represent of the controlling mindset of this country, of the notion that African Americans are less than human.

For example, banning the chokehold is a great idea, but that same banned chokehold is what killed Eric Garner.

Until we get to the real crux of the issue, the controlling and racist mindset of an entire criminal justice system that turns a blind eye to choking, shooting unarmed suspects and not holding officers accountable when they use excessively violent tactics, nothing substantive will change.

Jury verdicts validating police abuse and police departments staging sickouts to protest fellow officers being charged with crimes is evidence of the machine making corrections to protect itself.

Are the ongoing protests a moment or a movement? The jury is still out. The verdict will be determined by the blowback that comes from this moment and how those who are protesting and advocating for change respond to it.

The response to judicial and legislative advancements is always substantive blowback. The Supreme Court has dismantled the Voting Rights Act and conservative groups have escalated voter suppression tactics such as The Crosscheck Program.

Blowback response

The Supreme Court has made it more difficult to prove discrimination under the Civil Rights Act. The election of Donald Trump was blowback to the election of Barack Obama as was Sen. McConnell’s not allowing the nomination of Merrick Garland to go forward

The American ethos of exceptionalism and the illusion of White supremacy are under attack. The battle is playing out right before our eyes on both the foreign and domestic fronts.

Dr. King warned us about the three major evils: “poverty, global racial oppression and militarism”… King told us, “And we must face the hard fact that many Americans would like to have a nation which is a democracy for white Americans but simultaneously a dictatorship over Black Americans.”

Too many White Americans are insecure and losing their footing in the shifting sands of the quest for ethnic equality in America.

How those of good conscience and morality respond to the violent blowback will determine if and how the country can move from this moment of unrest and uncertainty to a movement of peace and equality.

I am certain that we will never get there until Congress and others stop wading in the safety of the shallow waters of chokeholds and panels and begin to swim into the deep waters of the real issue, the racist ethos of America.

Dr. Wilmer Leon is producer/ host of the nationally broadcast call-in talk radio program “Inside the Issues with Wilmer Leon,” on SiriusXM Satellite radio channel 126. Contact him via www.wilmerleon.com.

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