Benjamin Evans is the managing director of BMe Community, which seeks to tell the stories of everyday black men who are making positive changes in their city and support their work.
Terence Crutcher called 9-1-1 for assistance. When the police arrived, they found him unarmed with his hands in the air. They shot him anyway. This incident reveals a devastating reality: despite an emancipation, amendments, protests and boycotts, the vicious cycles of the careless disposal of black lives continue.
A careful historical examination of our nation’s social, racial and economic challenges, and the legislation used to rectify them, provide us with strategic tools that would allow us to truly build a country that works for everyone. History teaches us to fill any discriminatory loopholes in the law and eradicate policies that support systemic racism.
Cycles of dehumanizing, lynching, and murdering black people still occur without consequence. Whether executed by the slave patrols of colonial times, the Ku Klux Klan, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, or the sheriff and deputies of the old South, the infringement upon the rights and liberties of black people is well documented.
Today, it is no longer lawful to use race as a justification for discrimination. But as Michelle Alexander points out in her bestselling book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” “…we use our criminal justice system to label people of color ‘criminals.’ Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination —employment, housing, denial of voting rights, educational opportunities and the denial of other public benefits — are suddenly legal.” This is a disturbing loophole in the justice system given insufficient attention.
But Terence was not a criminal, so why did police officers respond as if he were an armed and dangerous one? Did Terence look like a bad guy? Did they feel they were in imminent danger? Or could it be the deeply entrenched racism, that is intertwined in the structures that govern our nation’s legal system?
The 13th Amendment to abolish slavery reads, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.”
The amendment gave Southern states latitude to pass absurd laws to arrest, incarcerate, and sentence black men, women, and even children to work as forced convict slaves in factories, mines, and farms. These laws, known as the “Black Codes,” included regulations against homelessness, loitering, and selling cotton after sundown. It became a crime to be unemployed, leave one job for another, and speak too loudly in the presence of white women.
Eighty years after Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, the document credited for ending slavery, “free” black people were still slaves.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt put an end to the heinous practices of involuntary servitude with Circular 3591 in 1941 because he needed more workers to make steel for World War II. According to research by Douglas Blackmon who wrote the Pulitzer-Prize winning book, “Slavery by Another Name,” U.S. Steel, who owned the mines in Alabama, had majority black slaves producing steel and could not meet the overwhelming needs of the nation’s war effort. Roosevelt nationalized the U.S. Steel facilities and the company began using an integrated steelworker’s union.
Roosevelt’s motivation for putting an end to slavery was because the country would suffer without the change. Systemic racism is not good for the social and economic future of our country. History teaches us that unless the injustices of the minority become an issue for the majority, true justice is only a dream.
In South Florida many organizations, including the Community Justice Project, Inc., Dream Defenders, Power U Center for Social Change, and Black Lives Matter Alliance of Broward are working to correct the many injustices facing our community. Just recently two black men were shot by police officers without just cause in South Florida. Corey Jones, a beloved musician, was waiting on the side of the road for a tow truck when a plainclothes police officer shot and killed him. Charles Kinsey, a mental health therapist, was on the ground assisting his patient with his hands in the air screaming, “Please don’t shoot me,” when he was shot by the police. Neither man presented an imminent danger but were gunned down as if they were armed and dangerous.
There is a long history of policies that criminalize being black in America. Akin to Roosevelt’s policies, we must continue efforts like American Civil Liberties Union, Cut50, Law for Black Lives, and Color of Change, who are working to combat inequities and build a country where liberty and justice is truly for all.
As we continue to fight for an end to the cycles of inhumane lynching, reckless murders and the disposal of black lives, our continued efforts should be centered on viable strategies to change policy and legislation. Police brutality, systemic racism, discrimination, and economic inequality should be rejected by everyone. Every American should join the fight to speak against the debilitating effects of systemic racism and any injustice that poses a serious threat to the future of our country.
Your View is a recurring series of opinion pieces from members of The New Tropic community. To share your ideas, goals, and work about Miami with the community in a Your View piece, please submit it to [email protected]