14 Apr

From the Southern Migration of the Negro to the North Until Now, African Americans Still Wait for the “American Promise” of Rendering Justice Fairly

Posted by Obiora N. Anekwe

As we see, the story remains the same with little regard for black lives. We may chant the motto “Black Lives Matter!” but how much do our lives really matter in a global society that devalues the significance of black people? In recent days, a cellular phone video footage surfaced showing Michael T. Slager, a white police officer in North Charleston, South Carolina, shooting Walter L.Scott eight times as he fled, killing him while he ran away.

The shooting came to light after other high profile tragedies occurred where police officers used excessive lethal force in New York, Cleveland, Ferguson, and Missouri. In each of these critical cases throughout various regions and states, the black men involved were viewed as a “threat” in which police officers often stated that they “feared for their lives.” As a result, these black men were brutally killed with little to no recourse for their senseless killings.

The more I read about these incidents throughout America, the more I am reminded of the stark reality that black men were and are still invisibles without eternal worth or value, but quite visible when they were and are still utilized as primary human labor forces in the prison industrial system. Much like their black enslaved male ancestors, black men are still chased, murdered, and re-captured if and when they get out of line or attempt to runaway from mental and spiritual enslavement. Black men often release their frustrated, yet depressed state through alcohol/drug use or by committing unlawful acts due to a lack of sufficient support, both monetarily and spiritually. In a majority of these recent senseless killings, the crimes that are suspected essentially amount to what I describe as crimes of survival. These type of crimes are often the result of inadequate employment and/or education necessary to compete competitively so that black men can be productive citizens in our society.

The modern black man now suffers just as their enslaved ancestors who once attempted to seek solitude and freedom from the white slave catchers of the South by escaping to the North. These so-called enforcers of law during the height of black enslavement in America have been re-fashioned under the auspices of law enforcement officers who have become modern day slave catchers during a new era of Jim Crow. But unlike the oppressive tactics that were once limited to certain slave territories, these new crime fighters have the free and full range to literally kill black men without any questions asked because of their perceived fears of imminent endangerment. As such, the act of policing has taken precedence over a black man’s inherent right to live and have justice rendered. 

As I reflect upon the past history of Africans in America, I am often reminded that history’s past can vividly teach us lessons that should never be repeated. It also teaches us that history is often repeated if it is not rectified through healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

In a new revealing exhibition of artist Jacob Lawrence’s panel series on the migration of blacks from the South to the North during the height of brutal segregation and Jim Crow laws, we are reminded of past racial issues that resoundingly mirror events of today. Through orally visualized imagery in 60 art panels by Jacob Lawrence (September 7, 1917- June 9, 2000), the exhibition entitled, One-Way Ticket: Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series and Other Works, visually re-examines how racism towards black people is inherit to America’s human engagement and societal norms. The exhibition is on view from April 3 until September 7, 2015 at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York, York.

Among the striking images Jacob Lawrence portrayed in his art panels, one panel stood out for me when I visited the exhibition. In Panel 52, one of the largest and most brutal race riots in East St. Louis was shown in dramatically colored imagery. The police brutality depicted in this panel about race riots in East St. Louis re-ignites the potent, yet vivid images shown on television after similar race riots occurred in Ferguson, Missouri decades later. Although close to a century has passed since the race riots of 1917 in East St. Louis, not much has changed in terms of issues connected to race. Jacob Lawrence’s painting reminds me that art can serve as a truth-teller that factualizes the harsh realities of our past and present social concerns. If we are not careful, incidents of the past that serve as blatant reminders of American history’s unreconciled consciousness will continue to plague us if we do not seek to rid our nation of oppressive injustice practices and replace it with a system of democratic leadership, justice, and fairness. Still, today African Americans wait for the “American Promise” of rendering justice fairly.

What are your thoughts about my essay? Do you agree or disagree with my opinions? What is your take on the issues I have raised in this article? Is my point of view justified?

I have added a link featuring an interview with political consultant Chris Metzler, Ph.D. on Fox Television's The O’Reilly Factor about the recent shooting of Walter L. Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina in order to begin our conversation.

Ethically Speaking,
Obiora N. Anekwe


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