Black Buzz News Service
College Park, Maryland
January 21, 2011
America’s Selective Sympathy for Loss of Life:
Life, Death and Racism
By Solomon Comissiong
January 8th 2011 will long be a day marked in infamy throughout the United States. Friends and family of the six Americans whose lives were tragically and needlessly ripped away, by a crazed 22-year old, may never recover emotionally. 19 people in all were shot, six fatally, by a mentally disturbed young man. This horrific incident cast sadness across the nation. The US corporate media, understandably, focused the bulk of their attention on Tucson, Arizona where the senseless crime occurred. Millions keep the victims in their hearts and minds. Many Americans rightfully mourned the dead and continue to pray for the safe recovery for those who survived their gun shots, including a US Congresswoman who sustained a devastating gunshot to her brain. This heinous crime took the lives of six people, including a nine year-old girl. This, in and of itself, is a tragedy beyond comprehension. The nation now tries to grip the gravity of this event and learn enough from it so that it may never happen again. Lawmakers will undoubtedly deliberate the ramifications of loosely kept gun “control” laws. The dreadful event of January 8th 2011 will not soon be forgotten, nor should it be. As reflection sets within, the author cannot help but ponder myriad disgraceful social realities that continue to plague America and her most disenfranchised. What kind of improved society would the US have if the majority of its citizens mourned the violent loss of innocent life in the same manner they did on 1-08-2011? What kind of world would it be in most Americans mourned the violent loss of innocent life regardless of what country they came from? These, indeed, are questions seldom reflected upon by many white Americans; however these same questions are often thought about by people of color throughout the globe.
Each year within the United States there are myriad black and brown skinned men and women who lose their lives despite being unarmed and innocent. In the black community we call this police brutality or police murder. It unfortunately has long become something that is commonplace within the stained fabric of America. There are far too many instances of police brutality for the author to mention throughout this essay; however I will give but a few examples. They are far from isolated or novel situations. On November 25, 2006 a young man named Sean Bell and two of his friends were shot 50 times by a team of plain clothed and undercover New York Police officers. Their crime was that of celebrating Bell’s bachelor party. None of the three young black men were armed in any way, shape, form or fashion, however they were gunned down like wild animals in cold blood. Sean Bell’s friends were severely wounded. Sean Bell was not so fortunate—he was killed. This crime in any sane or just society left Bell’s finance and child without a future husband and father.
On April 25, 2008 all three trigger happy police officers were acquitted by an amoral judge named Arthur J. Cooperman. The three officers were allowed to go free and live the rest of their lives; meanwhile Sean Bell’s life is no more. The black community in New York was rightfully outraged and protested. Black people throughout the nation were outraged. However, white America, as a whole was virtually silent. No 24 hour news coverage and no nationally televised memorial featuring the then US president George W. Bush. US senator and presidential candidate, Barack Obama, callously said, “We’re a nation of laws, so we respect the verdict that came down….Resorting to violence to express displeasure over a verdict is something that is completely unacceptable and is counterproductive.” Who was Mr. Obama to say, “we respect the verdict that came down”? Barack Obama then, like now, never advocated for the black community. He has done everything he can to distance himself from the black community in order to curry favor with white America whose votes he was chasing after like cops chase black men. Given this blatant reality, who the hell did he think he was speaking for a bereaving black community? It was within their constitutional rights to assemble and peaceably protest the crime as well as the subsequent unjust verdict. There was no violence or rioting whatsoever. His comments proved to be as stereotypically prejudicial as that of many white Americans regarding black people. This fact makes the comparison between Obama and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. all the more absurd and insulting. Would Mr. Obama tell Dr. King not to protest in places like Montgomery and Birmingham, Alabama, over the reprehensible and inhumane treatment of African-Americans? Based on his repugnant and insensitive comments—-he probably would.
In the early morning of 2009 in Oakland, California a young (unarmed) black man by the name of Oscar Grant was shot in the back by a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) police officer as he lay face down (handcuffed) on the cold pavement. He was shot execution style. He was pronounced dead later that morning. Despite the crime being filmed on two camera phones; the murderous police officer named Johannes Mehserle, was given a two year prison sentence with double credit for time already served. This reduced his pathetic sentence to 292 days for the 146 days he spent in jail during the trial. He, in essence, received less prison time than did the NFL football player Michael Vick—-for fighting pit bull dogs. Mehserle is eligible for release sometime in January 2011. Eyewitnesses even saw one of Mehserle’s goon police partners punch Oscar Grant in the face prior to handcuffing him as well as Mehserle calling Grant a “nigger”. Insult to injury is the fact that there were no African-Americans whatsoever on the jury during this farce of a trial.
Oscar Grant, like Sean Bell, is now dead. He was also a father. Where was the national outcry and nationwide mourning for the needless and violent loss of this man’s young life? Where was the corporate media covering this tragic story round the clock? They were nowhere to be found, much like justice in the black community. Despite the consistent actions of committed activists trying to bring attention to the case, and more importantly justice to the verdict, America did not collectively mourn the death of Oscar Grant.
On May 16, 2010 a seven year old girl from Detroit, Michigan was shot and killed by police officers in a botched raid. Blood thirsty Detroit police officers “mistakenly” and carelessly raided the home where seven year-old Aiyana Mo’Nay Stanley Jones lay sleeping. The Detroit Police officers claimed they were looking for the suspect of an alleged crime. That suspect was nowhere to be found. However, after the police fired a flash grenade in the home, they entered the front door and little Aiyana was shot in the neck by Officer Joseph Weekley. Coincidentally Officer Weekley is one of several police officers facing charges for the 2007 raid of a Detroit house where he allegedly shot two dogs and pointed his gun at children. Needless to say he has yet to meet justice in that case or the murder of the seven year-old black girl, Aiyana Stanley Jones.
Do you think there was a nationwide outcry riddled on every corporate news network for the violent loss of this innocent life? If you said yes, think again! The story received cursory coverage on “news” networks, at best. Not a damn word from President Obama condemning this heinous crime. Nothing! Little Aiyana is dead, just like Sean Bell and Oscar Grant.
These crimes are far from novel in America’s poorest communities of color. If they seem novel to you, then clearly have little day-to-day contact with these communities or with the people live in them. If you regularly watch (are programmed) by corporate media you also would have no idea the kind of routine terror black people face by way of many police officers (overseers). However, it is simply not just the corporate media or the cops’ fault that these kinds of crimes go unchecked every year in America, there is a much bigger culprit that sets all of these things in motion. Institutional racism and white supremacy work hand-in-hand in creating an ongoing system of injustice that disproportionately plagues communities of color. This is why the innocent loss of black life frequently goes overlooked by the nation, as a whole. An institutionally racist “justice” system creates the chessboards that use people of color as expendable pawns, day in and day out. The corporate media serve as a powerful apparatus within this diabolical system. They over represent people of color as perpetrators, all the while under-representing those same people as victims, especially when they are victims of unfettered police brutality. This has irrefutably created a warped national consensus that immediately gives the benefit of doubt to the police officer whenever a case of brutality occurs. Like Pavlov’s dogs, “mainstream” America mindlessly salivates whenever the corporate media beckons them to think a certain way. It is all a tangled web masterminded to deceive, obfuscate, and isolate.
Much of America has lost its humanity. The elephant is in the room regardless of whether we acknowledge it or not—-America is a structurally racist nation. And like a cancer it continues to metastasize each day we ignore it. This societal apathy regarding the plight of black and brown people in America, and their unequal status, allows racial injustice to build momentum like a snowball—-a very large WHITE snowball. Understanding this ugly fact we can see why “mainstream” white America would not mourn the loss of innocent black life in the same manner they do the loss of innocent white life. In America there is no equality in those regards, thus the killing of dogs carries a stiffer sentence than does the coldblooded police murder of an unarmed young black man. This is also why in 2011 black people are paid 62 cents to every dollar a white person is paid. This is the unfortunate truth of life in America even in 2011, with no tangible change in sight. However, just imagine just for a moment—-what kind of society would it be if each life, regardless of color, were treated equally. And then imagine what kind of world it would be if Americans, as a whole, gave a damn even about the loss of innocent lives outside of her manufactured borders. If so, we might place equal emphasis on the over one million Iraqi civilians who have lost their lives in a illegal and US taxpayer funded war. We might even care about the tens of thousands of Afghan citizens who were mercilessly killed by way of indiscriminate US drone and air-strikes. And what if Americans, collectively, gave a damn and were outraged at the fact their their government levied harsh sanctions on Iraq in the mid 1990s thus preventing clean water and vital medicines to enter the country(Iraq)? Oh…by the way, these sanctions directly caused over 500,000 (half a million) Iraqi children to DIE! When the then US Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, was asked by 60 minutes’ reporter Lesley Stahl, “We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?”, her reprehensible response was, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it.” This just about sums up the sick social disease that plagues America from the inside out. When the US Secretary of State essentially justifies the direct killing of over 500,000 children in Iraq, without mass condemnation from the American masses; is a mark of the times that we may be living in a social hell. Perhaps the most sad thing about this…most of us do not even realize it.
If the vast majority of Americans truly were outraged, saddened and moved to some sort of progressive social action—undoubtedly it might be a much better world.
Solomon Comissiong is an educator, community activist, author, public speaker and the host of the Your World News media collective (www.blogtalkradio.com/Your-World-News) and www.yourworldnews.blip.tv.
7 Responses for “America’s Selective Sympathy for Loss of Life”
Paul Panza says:
January 21, 2011 at 2:54 am
We are what we eat. Our thinking, feelings and sense of justice are skewed by our poisonous corporate food. Usually Stupid Americans (USA) consume dead animals on a daily basis, without thought as to what kind of person they will become and how that effects the world at large. I feel sorry for those who have met injustice and death at the hands of the blue meanies. The officials of injustice are not worth one ounce respect. The soulless act of our elected officials condoning the murderous actions of police and military is another sign of our mad cow depravity.
January 21, 2011 at 7:34 am
Thank you for this piece Brother Solomon! We are truly in a time of spiritual warfare where unfortunately many in this country have taken up the European notion of inidividualism to the extent that for most (mainly white) Americans the ends justify the means so long as it is against people they have choosen to other and deemed less than human. There is nothing wrong with being proud of where you come from, however, a true patriot is the one that looks at its countries actions and actively seeks to change the bad. When a people jusitifies the murder of innocent civilians simply because they are phenotypically different from them there is no explanation that can be given for that short of deep seeded racism that has been passed down from generation to generation from the illegal inception of this nation by muderous European colonizers.
The arguement here is not that we should not mourn the tragic events that occured on Jan. 9th, Sept. 11th or the Columbine shooting. Rather the issue is that why has the execution of black people in this country become common place and disregarded by most? Why are consistent shootings in Black and Latino schools not given the media attention and more importantly school board concern that white suburban schools get in the same situation? Why is the American double standard so severe that having military bases in other sovergin nations is not considered invasive but if that where even to be considered by another country, Americans would outcry foreign terrorism… Why do the lives of people of color in this country and outside continue to be devalued and ignored? Given the state of the world we live in it is important to take a moment of silence everyday to remember the innocent civilian lives that were unjustly lost that day to white supremacy and systematic racism. But more importantly there must be an outcry of righteous indignation by all of us each and everyday that in one form or another demands equality!
January 21, 2011 at 9:18 am
Today, the 21st of January marks the fiftieth anniversary of the murder of Patricia Lumumba, elected president of the Congo. With the help of the CIA, the pawn and CIA asset Mobuto had Lumumba killed at the behest of the US government.
I mention this for Solomon is right; the selectivity of our grief is only surpassed by the hideous crimes of the government and corporations who own it.
When black leadres, be they King or Malcolm or Lumumba are executed there is no ‘day of mourning’ only a morning without a day. Black people are living today in a nightmare that is born out of the racism of America and the tragic events surrounding this new subjugation are hardly known by most Americans who are not black.
The tragedy is the violence that is not known, the violence that targets whole communities of black people and other people of color. Racism is the scourge and the consequences of it are being lived now as tragedy.
January 21, 2011 at 12:25 pm
Race is one card to play. But there’s another. Personally, I don’t think it’s a race issue, except on an individual basis anyway. I’m sure there are a lot of bigot cops. But there are a lot of bigot black people too. Not my point however.
The difference between the tragedies you are comparing is not just white vs non-white. The difference is that in one, a lone gunman, a citizen, took innocent lives. In the other an authorized agent of the State did it.
For the first, it’s easy to sensationalize, easy to digest what’s right or wrong. We, as citizens, are not supposed to go around killing each other.
For the second, what’s right or wrong is not so black and white, seriously. Any public outcry (and there always is, it’s just not on the news) calls into suspect the the power of the State over it’s citizens. It questions authority. This is bad, this is not to be done, this will jeopardize the stability of the State.
The State does not criticize itself. The people who work for it, will not limit their own power. If it weren’t for our Constitution, we’d have a completely Totalitarian state of tyranny.
And another point, there are likely all manner of shootings of white people by state agents that you’d have to research. They get even less publicity than that of non-whites. You know about the non-white shootings exactly because of public outcry and some amount of at least local news attention, which you say doesn’t exist. It does exist. But again, why isn’t it like Columbine et al? Because as I said, it is not acceptable to demonize the State, but we can easily demonize a single shooter, who is already dead.
My suggestion then would be take a longer look at the race card you’re playing. Why are there so many non-white people shot? You can also ask why are there so many non-white people living in high crime areas where they are bound to come into conflict with cops? The answer is not as easy as just saying white people are bigots, which is pretty much what you’re article sums up to.
January 21, 2011 at 12:51 pm
thank you for exemplifying white people’s inability/refusal to engage in critical reflection and introspection. your defensive posture and ignorant conclusions are typical of delusional americans and support the author’s position.
January 21, 2011 at 12:45 pm
“…questions seldom reflected upon by white americans.” euro-americans, i.e. white people, are so morally depraved and spiritually bankrupt that any attempt at “reflection” on social issues is distorted by their pathological tribalism [white supremacy], obscene individualism, and malicious materialism. white people have succumbed to the dominant narrative of pax americana and are ardent disciples of the church of americanism. this renders them incapable of critical thinking and critical analysis, i.e. serious reflection or introspection. so in terms of the crises mentioned above, white americans feel no remorse about supporting a societal structure that systematically murders people, whether they’re little black girls in detroit, black men in oakland, or innocent women & children in vietnam, palestine, afghanistan, iraq, or elsewhere. rather than protest the murderous imperialism of their government, white people “pledge allegience to the flag” and sing “god bless america” and feel proud to “support the troops.” and failing to be, or even appear, duly “patriotic” is the cardinal sin for which there is no mercy – just ask jeremiah wright. white americans in general, and “christians” in particular are convinced of their superiority in relation to non-white peoples, especially to non-christian people of color, all of whom are basically expendable. yes, this is a sick, sick society. i am proud to be maladjusted.
Pfarthing6 is an idiot says:
January 21, 2011 at 12:46 pm
Pfarthing6 you are either intellectually dishonest or a mindless drone, either way you are a part of the problem. Why do you go do the math and compare the amount of police brutality cases there are in communities of color as compared to white communities and then look at the fricking clearance rate of those cases. People like you that seem to think that there is no such thing as institutional racism rampant in America dont give damn about black and brown people and you are very much a part of the problem. The author never stated that all white people were bigots. The problem he outlined is institutional! Its too bad you are incapable of reading and buttressing your claims with anything academic. Why? Because they dont exist. The research has been done you nit wit. They recently even looked at the stop and frisks policies of NYC and hope they overwhelmingly targeted blacks and Latinos. Read this you idiot:
New York Cops Stop Record Numbers of Blacks and Latinos – for Nothing
A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford
“Making a ‘furtive’ move or wearing a jacket the cops think is out of season is good reason to stop a person on the streets of New York.”
Even as civil libertarians push their suit to halt arbitrary stop-and-frisks, New York City cops are on the way to breaking all records  for sweeping Blacks and Latinos from the streets. According to the police department’s own data, at the pace they are going, cops will have stopped, questioned and frisked almost 628,000 persons by the end of the year – more than the whole population of Boston. Last year, stop-and-frisks numbered 531,000 – more than the population of Atlanta. In the years 2004 through 2008, the NYPD stopped almost two million people  on the streets. This may be the largest and longest sustained dragnet in urban history, including under conditions of martial law.
Despite all that police activity – and the seething anger it generates in targeted neighborhoods – only one out of ten stops results in an arrest or even a summons. But it’s not as if the police aren’t trying to arrest as many non-whites as possible. Blacks consistently number around half of those stopped by police – although making up only about a quarter of the population. Whites hover around 10 percent of those stopped on the street, while comprising 45 percent of all New Yorkers.
About one hundred thousand more people are stopped and frisked than are arrested the old fashioned way, based on probable cause. The street stops are supposedly based on the lower standard of “reasonable suspicion” – but it’s a reasoning only understandable to police and racists. In order to make the practice appear reasonable, the cops give out cards that explain the kind of behavior that supposedly leads to a stop-and-frisk. It includes :
“carrying what appears to be a weapon”;
creating “sights or sounds suggestive of criminal activity” such as ringing an alarm, or running from a crime scene;
making “furtive movements”; and
wearing clothes “inappropriate for the season” or clothes “commonly used in a crime”
“In the years 2004 through 2008, the NYPD stopped almost two million people  on the streets.”
So, making a “furtive” move or wearing a jacket the cops think is out of season is good reason to stop a person on the streets of New York. In fact, any excuse will do, if you’re Black.
It is this type of institutionalized police behavior that leads inevitably to mass Black incarceration. The process begins with hyper-surveillance of Blacks and browns. Arbitrary stops lead to arbitrary arrests of the unlucky ten percent; to arbitrarily severe charges, followed by higher Black conviction rates and longer sentences under harsher circumstances. The end result is total community devastation. But it all starts with the cops on the block.
Crime has been way down in New York for a very long time. But that doesn’t matter to the police, who justify their racially selective behavior no matter what the crime rate is. If crime is up, that means more stops are needed. If crime is down, the cops say that’s because of the street stops. The only consistent factor is race – the defining element of American life.
When many Americans use the terms “police state” or “creeping fascism,” their point of reference is the Patriot Act or some other mechanism of the national security state. But for Black America, the police state is the daily reality of arbitrary, relentless stops on the streets of their own neighborhoods, or in the hallways of their own public housing projects.
When the numbers are tallied, they are expected to show that more than 600,000 people were stopped by police on the streets of New York City, last year, 89 percent of them Black and brown. That’s almost six times the number of “stop-and-frisks” in 2002. Philadelphia stopped 200,000 people on its streets in 2008, twice the number as in the previous year. Los Angeles stop-and-frisks hit a quarter million in 2008, double the rate in 2002. And that doesn’t count the people stopped in their cars in L.A.
Stop-and-frisk is the race-based law of the land, the American police state in its most elemental, predatory form, a system of methodical mass racial profiling that debases and criminalizes all African Americans, and which now serves as the primary intake mechanism for the national policy of mass Black incarceration.
The legal justification for the mass stopping and frisking of Blacks roughly dates to the beginnings of modern mass imprisonment of Blacks. In 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police can stop and detain citizens based on “reasonable suspicion” of involvement in crime, rather than the higher standard of “probably cause.” Of course, in a racist society, singling out Blacks for more intensive surveillance and questioning seems eminently reasonable. And when mass Black profiling ultimately results in far more Blacks being sucked into the criminal justice system, then the racist society concludes it was right all along – that African Americans are more prone to commit crimes. Mass Black profiling is guaranteed to find what it’s looking for: more Black crime. Mass Black profiling and mass Black incarceration are organic elements of the same, diabolical system that preys on African Americans as a group and makes the words “crime” and “Black” synonymous in the public mind.
“Mass Black profiling is guaranteed to find what it’s looking for: more Black crime.”
Nowhere is police predation more merciless than in public housing. New York City public housing is home to 400,000 people, 95 percent of them Black and Latino. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund has filed suit, charging that police so-called “vertical sweeps ” from floor to floor of public housing buildings serve no legal purpose, and routinely subject residents and visitors to illegal stops and false arrests. Studies have shown that public housing tenants in New York are three times as likely to be stopped in their own complexes than people in surrounding neighborhoods with similar crimes rates. Police stops have doubled in public housing since 2004. Visitors are so harassed and intimidated by police behavior, many no longer visit their friends and relatives in public housing. The citywide public housing tenant organization says the perception among residents is that they are living in “penal colonies.” For millions of Black Americans, the Bill of Rights no longer exists on the streets and in the hallways of their city. For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to http://www.blackagendareport.com/
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at http://draft.blogger.com/goog_2106627310