Mr. President, Show Us Your Mandela Moment
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
–President Barack Obama
by Lovell Beaulieu
Pardon the lack of a presidential title but this cannot afford the trappings of protocol or formalities. Let’s cut to the chase.
Darren Wilson is free. He will never pay for the crime he committed. He will get to see his children play Little League. He probably had a normal Thanksgiving with family. Michael Brown is now among the league of young Black men dead at the hands of police.
We’ve never met, Barack, but I was 100 feet away from you in the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans in July of 2012 during an intense presidential campaign. You were there to address the annual conference of the National Urban League. It was a proud American moment for this writer.
You gave a rousing speech to the crowd, a racially-mixed gathering unlike any I’ve ever seen in my life. I’ve never seen so many Black and White people under the same roof, all so happy.
The next morning, a rabidly right-wing New Orleans talk show host described the event in terms just short of racial epithets. I called the show and told the producer that I had been there, and that her cohort had it wrong. We were not the demagogues and demons he described. He’s no longer on the air.
Yes we can, Barack.
Brother to Brother
I want to talk to you, Barack, brother to brother, basketball fan to basketball fan, Black man to Black man. Speaking of basketball, did you see where Charles Barkley, who never won an NBA championship, called some people—probably your voters—”scumbags”? Barkley has never endeared himself to those engaged in thoughtful dialogue. He even once said he’s not a role model. He’s a Black apologist who has taken the Ferguson case and twisted it into a wrinkled examination of Black-on-Black crime.
Now he speaks down to people, exercising the same First Amendment right that allows him to prove the theory that it is “better to keep one’s mouth shut and be thought a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt.” Poor Charlie.
What you told us
A lot of people remember your election night speech in 2008, when you told the crowd at Grant Park that for those who did not vote for you, “I will be your president, too.” Barack, it’ll never happen. Someone who has harbored ill will toward an entire race of people isn’t going to overnight accept the fact that one of them is suddenly leading his race as well.
Black people need you to be their president for once. Anything else is tepid idealism. You can never be the president of those who hate you, those who despise you, those who deny you. You can reach out like a tree limb, but Black people continue to be found hanging on the branches. Sometimes push back wins the battle between right and wrong. The venom, the vitriol, the vile and the visceral hatred for you and for those who mirror a you are far too great to dream away.
Translation: Your calm words from you are no longer effective. Beer summits are good only for those marooned on an island of drunken stupor over race. White House strategy sessions among the best and the brightest will never overcome the inherent disdain for young Black lives.
Beowulf didn’t slay Grendel with a slingshot, Barack. Beowulf beat Grendel with a stone.
I’ve given up on the American criminal justice system, Barack. Grand juries are now the new grand jokes. The system, despite lofty, high-sounding rhetoric, just doesn’t work for those who resemble Michael Brown. It doesn’t work for people such as Eric Garner in New York. That’s not how it’s designed. That’s not how it functions. That’s not how it remains financially solvent.
You call for the rule of law, Barack, but you ignore the fundamental problem with American policing – too many cops believe they have no boundaries. They abide by their own rules. They ignore the laws of human rights and common decency espoused by an America that has made itself the world’s police, upholding ideals abroad that it has seemingly abandoned at home. They deprive men such as Eric Garner of their civil liberties. That’s Darren Wilson’s ultimate story. That’s the story of Eric Garner’s executioners, the sequel to those who murdered Emmett Till. That’s the story for the rogue cop wearing the green number 99 jersey and who stepped on Eric Garner’s neck before he was choked to death.
Here’s what the viewing audience missed in Ferguson. In his grand jury testimony, Darren Wilson said Michael Brown had “the look of a demon” on his face, that he looked like he wanted to intimidate the police officer. Wilson had only a scratch. Michael Brown is dead. Michael Brown was in the street alive one moment, dead as Julius Caesar the next. Darren Wilson decided he could execute a young man based on looks. Michael Brown is dead because he looked in Darren Wilson’s eyes like a menace.
Here’s what the grand jury missed in New York. They missed intent. Those cops intended to bring immense bodily harm to the burly young man named Eric Garner, including the possibility of death. They are cold-blooded killers who will never show remorse. In their eyes, Eric Garner deserved to die for his lack of subservience. You stood in the White House and honored with Medals of Freedom the three slain civil rights workers. They deserved it. But we must never forget Trayvon, Eric and Michael.
Think about this
Think about all the egregious acts of wrongful sentences, think about the four teenage Black men’s lives that were snatched when police, prosecutors and the press sent them to jail for 25 years in New York for a rape they did not commit.
Think about the most egregious police actions of the 21st century, the police shooting and killing of innocent civilians on the Danziger Bridge in New Orleans in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, where New Orleans became ground zero for the legal deprivation of all civil liberties.
You say you’re upset with the destruction of property and the violence in Ferguson. You called it the “long-term, hard but lasting route.” Emmett Till was massacred 60 years ago, Barack, and no one has ever been brought to justice. How long must we endure, Barack? How long must the route be?
Those who resemble Michael Brown are profiled from birth, statistical anomalies whose futures are marked for prison or cemetery.
I must mention Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy killed by a Cleveland police officer, Timothy Hoffman. Can you recall a 12-year-old White kid playing with a toy gun getting gunned down by a White or Black cop?
Remember when you said Trayvon Martin could have been your son? The same could be said for Tamir Rice. The young man did not deserve to die the way he did, at the hands of an out-of-control, rogue cop.
Reminding them of the inequities their grandparents encountered, you urged young people to “be patient.”
We’ve waited long enough, Barack.
In a refrain of one his most popular speeches, Martin Luther King, Jr. asked “how long?” and answered “not long.”
That was nearly a half century ago.
Our answer today is, “Long enough.”
What we need
Here’s what Black America needs from you, Barack. They need a voice. They need a resounding, unequivocal response to a monumental injustice, a sense that their lives have value, and that their children’s lives have even more. They need you to face your agitators and your antagonists the way the late Nelson Mandela faced his. They don’t need hope and change. They need a president.
We need you to have a Mandela moment, Barack. We need you to take on the racial beast of Grendel. Use your deadly oratorical skills to state the case the way you did to crush Mitt Romney. Stand alone. Shock America.
Be our champion, Barack, those who voted for you twice and have stood by you since. Throw the stone at Grendel and all his allies, Mr. President.
This you must do. A slingshot doesn’t work when the other side has a bazooka.
Lovell Beaulieu is a journalist.