Black Males In the Spotlight: Living Under the Bright Lights of 2014

My Dear Readers,

“Headline News: Georgia man threatens black kids at bus stop over noise: ‘This bullet has your name on it.’ ” (WTOC News 8.18.14)

As we close out 2014 and look forward to the New Year, I want to acknowledge the impact of media events pertaining to black men residing in America.  The public image of America that may be presented to the world may be of its economic wealth and beautiful scenery, but behind those scenes lies another truth: that those of us who are black males live under the microscope of America’s scrutiny.  It is through this lens that stereotypes, beliefs and perceptions are developed that color the experience of black males in America.

Racism is just as much a staple of America as apple pie and vanilla ice cream.  Its impact is both conscious and unconscious; weaved into the historical and intergenerational fabric of this country.

Racism is stressful.  The impact of racism is traumatic.  Racism not only creates false beliefs of superiority in the people who perpetrate it, but also reinforces low self-image, inferiority complexes, and other traumas for its victims as they attempt to become “acceptable.”

Where many white males are only viewed as individuals, and their actions are only considered to represent themselves, the actions of black males from childhood often are used to label the entirety of Black America.  Many of us grow up with the guidance of our parents reminding us that it only takes “one to pull the rest of us down.”

As a child, I remember getting the look— the expression that my parents gave me when I misbehaved in public that stopped me in my tracks. I remember going to the doctor’s office in my best suit, only to have to undress for my examination.  I remember my formal dining ritual while dining in public.  I was well-spoken, neatly attired and well mannered.  The message that was driven into me was simple, that I was different, so in public, I must always send the message to non-blacks that I was safe, and that I was acceptable. This message was one that continues to be repeated in many Black American households to this very day.

Although many of us refuse to admit it, like most humans, we too want to be accepted—we want to be valued and validated.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to be valued as a good person, viewed as upstanding member of one’s community and validated by one’s peers, colleague or professional organization.

However, when individual accomplishments are minimized or ignored and instead, group identity is magnified, manipulated, and misused, estimations of value and validation becomes cracked and distorted.  In the interest of enlarging its viewing audience, the media feeds existing fears that eventually provide the justification for the actions of the dominant group.

Whereas the dominant group would NEVER hold its entire group responsible for the single actions of one person, it will nevertheless seek to hold the entire group of black males responsible for actions attributed to one individual.  The media is well adapted to do this—serve up distorted stories of black masculinity, inappropriate sexual behaviors and criminal acts.

Kevin Powell, in his book The Black Male Handbook, writes:

“…the negative images of Black males created by the White media makers were powerful and pervasive enough to stick in the minds of people like glue.  Over time, people of all racial backgrounds come to associate Black men with negative characteristics and negative behavior.

Black males are viewed with suspicion, and perceived as untrustworthy, violent criminals.  This perception of Black men has had a long lasting effect, and pervades the minds of millions of people around the world even to this day.”

The sensationalism, paired with the growing fear within the dominant group, has created a climate where violence against black males, regardless of age or activity, is accepted.  In just the last six months, there were the following police involved shootings and activities:

  • Chokehold Death

On July 17, a white plainclothes police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, applied what a medical examiner determined was a chokehold to an unarmed black man accused of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes on a New York City street. A videotape of the takedown of Eric Garner, who had asthma, showed him repeatedly saying, “I can’t breathe,” while officers wrestled him to the ground. Garner died soon after, and a grand jury decided Wednesday not to indict Pantaleo, prompting daily protests and chants of “Black lives matter!”

  • Wal-Mart Shooting

On Aug. 5, a white policeman responding to a call about a man waving what appeared to be a rifle in an Ohio Wal-Mart store shot and killed John Crawford III, who was black. What Crawford was holding was an air rifle. A special grand jury decided in September the actions of Officer Sean Williams and another Beavercreek officer in the racially charged case were justified.

  • Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!

On Aug. 9, white police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown on a street in Ferguson, Missouri. Supporters of Brown’s family say he had his hands up in surrender, but Wilson has said that’s “incorrect” and he couldn’t have done anything differently in their confrontation. A grand jury decision last month to not indict Wilson sparked violent demonstrations and looting in the St. Louis suburb, and around the nation protesters have chanted, “Hands up! Don’t shoot!”

  • Shot obeying Instructions

On Sept. 9, a South Carolina state trooper shot Lever Jones after following his instructions of to provide his license.  The state trooper had recently been designated “fit to return to active duty” following involvement in shootout with another motorist

  • Stairway Shooting

On Nov. 20, a rookie New York Police Department officer walking with his gun drawn in a darkened stairwell of a public housing complex, shot and killed a black man leaving the building with his girlfriend. Police Commissioner William Bratton said that Akai Gurley had been “a total innocent” when he was shot and that the shooting, by an Asian officer, was under investigation.

  • Pellet Gun Shooting

On Nov. 22, a white rookie police officer, Tim Loehmann, shot and killed a 12-year-old black boy, Tamir Rice, who had been pointing a pellet gun near a Cleveland playground. Police say Tamir was told to raise his hands but reached into his waistband for the realistic-looking airsoft gun, which was missing its orange safety indicator. The shooting, captured on surveillance video, has prompted street protests, and Tamir’s family on Friday filed a lawsuit against the city, Loehmann and his partner.

  • Unarmed Drug Suspect Killed

On Dec. 1, a white police officer who authorities say mistook a pill bottle for a gun, shot and killed an unarmed black drug suspect during a struggle at a Phoenix apartment building. About 150 people upset about the killing of Rumain Brisbon marched to police headquarters, and police and prosecutors met with local civil rights leaders.

  • Fight Over Tailgate Ticket

On Dec. 4, in tiny Eutawville, South Carolina, a white former police chief was charged with murder in the 2011 shooting death of an unarmed black man, Bernard Bailey, who had gone to Town Hall to argue about a broken-taillight ticket. Bailey and then-chief Richard Combs fought, and Combs shot Bailey twice in the chest. Combs’ lawyer accused prosecutors of taking advantage of national outrage toward police to obtain the indictment.

Furthermore, during 2014 individual behaviors and actions has been sensationalized in the media and used to demonized and create pictures of black men as a group.  These behaviors include the following:

Inappropriate Sexual Behavior

  • Jameis Winston, quarterback Florida State University had a sexual assault complaint in 2013, and was suspended for a game in 2014 for jumping on a table in student union building and shouting profanity.m Winston continues to quarterback the nationally ranked football team.
  • Bill Cosby, nationally known actor and comedian, sidestepping allegations that he drugged and sexually abused women during the early segment of his acting career. Although accusations have been made by at least 20 women Cosby continues to either deny or refuse to respond.
  • Juan McFarland, pastor of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church admits to being sexually involved with members of the congregation while having AIDS and not informing the women of his medical illness. Although voted out by the congregation, a legal battle has been undertaken due to McFarland’s refusal to step down from the pastoral role of the church.

Violence Against Women

  • Cornell McNeal of Wichita, Kansas is being held for the rape and murder of a mother of four. It is alleged that following a sexual assault, the victim was set on fire resulting in severe burns over 50% of her body.
  • Lyle Herring, the brother in law of actress Aasha Davis, was portrayed on a segment of NBC Dateline. Although Herring was convicted of second-degree murder and given a sentence of 15 years to life in prison he has refused despite pleas to provide any information regarding where the body of his victim located.
  • Ray Rice, former NFL football player, has been charged for knocking out his wife and dragging her out of an elevator. He was recently removed from long term suspension from playing in the NFL.

Cruelty & Abusive Treatment of Children

  • Adrian Peterson, NFL football player, was charged for reckless or negligent injury of a child. He is accused of beating his four year old son with a tree branch causing severe welts and bleeding on the child’s back, legs, buttocks genitals and ankles.  He is currently on long term suspension from the NFL.
  • Brian Jones of Memphis, TN is currently being held on a $200,000 bond for the prostitution of a 12-year-old girl. The victim alleges that Jones forced her to have sex against her will with several men in his apartment
  • Gregory Jean of Jonesboro, GA is being held without bail for charges of obstruction false imprisonment and child cruelty. It is alleged that Jean kidnapped his son during a custody visit in 2010.  The boy was found four years later hidden behind a false wall.

Figures in Positions of Authority

  • Al Sharpton was publicly named in April as a paid drug informant working for the FBI. He has denied this accusation.
  • The announcement in November of the death of Marion Barry, the former Mayor of Washington DC. Mayor Barry, who served from 1979 to 1991, was convicted of crack cocaine possession and served six months in federal prison before completing a political comeback by being reelected as Mayor in 1995, and serving until 1999.
  • The announcement in November of the removal of Captain Wayne Brown, commander of one of the Navy’s premier warships, the amphibious assault ship Boxer. Brown was removed for violating Navy regulations against sexual harassment and conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman.
  • Christopher B. Epps, former Commissioner for the Mississippi Department of Corrections, was indicted by a federal grand jury in November regarding the privatization of prisons. Epps, one of the state’s longest serving officials, was indicated on charges of wire fraud, bribery and money laundering.

So, while these individual black males are held responsible for the behaviors of specific individuals, the dominant group is making pleas to not judge the rogue behavior of one “bad apple” as representative of the group.

One example of this is Daniel Holtzclaw, the Oklahoma City, OK police officer accused of sexually assaulting eight black women while patrolling the same community he swore to serve and protect.  Officer Holtzclaw has since been released on bond.

Concluding Remarks

Historically, police officers throughout this nation who have sworn to serve and protect their (entire) communities have consistently shown their inability to do so.  Beleaguered, feeling unappreciated and being left to fend for themselves by the dominant group, they have adopted an “us vs. them” mentality that they apply to their interactions with their communities.

It will be a while before things calm down.  Parents are concerned for the safety of their sons.  No parent wants that dreaded knock on the door or late night call from the police saying that their children have been killed.  Yet, we wait.  We hope.  We pray.  Daylight arrives.  We have made it through another day.

America is finally awakening to the fact that this isn’t, and never has been a post-racial society. Like the police, black males are feeling beleaguered, alone and are being shown that their lives are not considered to be of worth or value. We too have adopted an “us vs. them mentality,” as shown in the following headlines in the national black media:

  • Study: Police See Black Children As Being Less Innocent & Less Young than White Children (Salon 3.14.14)
  • Report: Black Males Are 21 Times More Likely to be Killed by Cops than White Ones (Think Progress 10.10.14)
  • The Village Is On Fire (The Black Star Project 12.2.14)
  • 10 Rules of Survival When A Young Black Man Is Stopped By The Police In America (The Black Star Project 12.3.14)

We respect the rule of law and order.  Yet, we will not trust the police until the lives of our children can receive the same protection for those of our complexion.

“Warming”

“Negroes, sweet and docile,

Meek, humble and kind:

Beware the day,

They change their minds”

-Langston Hughes

Until the next crossroads…The journey continues.

Dr. Micheal Kane

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