“African-Americans, it seems, are now the proverbial frog placed in water that is then slowly brought to boiling without the frog noticing.”
In light of the blood – of Black boys, men and increasingly Black girls – flowing in the streets of America, Obama needed a strong showing at the 50th Anniversary of what is called Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama. Bloody Sunday occurred 50 years ago, on March 7, 1965 on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, when the state of Alabama, among the most racist states in the US, unleashed a reign of military terror against 500 unarmed African-Americans who were peacefully marching to demand the right to vote. Everyday men, women, students, farmers, teachers, domestic workers and preachers took destiny in their hands and marched across a bridge named after Edmund Winston Pettus, a former Confederate brigadier general and Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan. That stunning display of courage by common people gave birth to martyrs, such as 26 year-old Jimmy Lee Jackson, an unarmed Black veteran murdered by Selma police with impunity during an earlier attempt to cross the bridge.
Fifty years later, the nation’s 1st African-American president desperately needed the collaboration of the corporate media to legitimize this event. The ghost of Jimmy Lee Jackson had been resurrected with the unaccounted for murders of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and 12 year old Kamil Rice. Just one day prior to the 2015 Selma march Tony Terrell Robinson, Jr., an unarmed 19 year-old from Madison, Wisconsin, was murdered inside his own home by a white cop. The President’s speech was to be an hour-long photo op, orchestrated by the US corporate media with its ubiquitous reach into every corner of the globe. Obama’s 2015 Bloody Sunday was to be a feel good day to appease white America on the achievements of “their” democracy without acknowledging the blood flowing through the streets in Black communities. This was to be a day where any serious analysis of the reality of Black life and death would be considered in “bad taste.”
Make no mistake, this 50th Anniversary Pettus Bridge Extravaganza had been building and masterfully stage-managed for months in advance. First, there was Attorney General Eric Holder's appearance at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, pastored by the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in which he lowered community expectations of holding killer cops and vigilantes responsible for the murders of Black youth. Then, two weeks before the 3rd anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s murder, President Obama and AG Holder officially announced there would be no charges brought against vigilante George Zimmerman, arguing that they could not prove Zimmerman's intentional violation of Trayvon’s right to walk to the corner store without fear of being hunted and killed by someone itching for the feel of shots popping off his fingertips. Zimmerman, now profits from the portraits he paints of Trayvon, his hoody-clad blood trophy.
“Obama’s 2015 Bloody Sunday was to be a feel good day to appease white America on the achievements of ‘their’ democracy without acknowledging the blood flowing through the streets in Black communities.”
And finally, to celebrate the accomplishments of letting Zimmerman and Wilson walk, the White House threw a Black History Month party, inviting Trayvon Martin's family as the guests of honor. And, in a macabre twist that could not have been an oversight, the party took place on the 3rd anniversary of Trayvon’s death. Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon's mother, told the Associated Press that she felt Zimmerman should be in prison: "He took a life, carelessly and recklessly, and he shouldn't deserve to have his entire life walking around on the street free. I just believe that he should be held accountable for what he's done."
In the spirit of their triumphant championing of the cause of “justice” against vigilantes and police murders Messrs. Obama and Holder announced on February 24th that there would also be no criminal charges brought against former St. Louis Police Officer, Darren Wilson for his August 9th execution of 18 year old Michael Brown.
White supremacist and former Alabama Governor George Wallace couldn't have gotten away with any of this. Former Governor of Georgia and segregationist Lester Maddox or Selma Sheriff Jim Clark couldn't have gotten away with this. It took a black president to enshrine the precedent – that black lives are as straw. We use them for our purposes. Shut up and behave.
Were this 1964, as James Balwin predicted in this masterpiece The Fire Next Time, most of the cities in America would be on fire. But in the second decade of the 21st century, we have a black president and attorney general leading the blockade under the banner of Black History Month. In essence, they have said: we will do nothing to protect our black youth, to hold their murderers accountable and we do so with accompanying commemorative platitudes.
It shows the preparation of the boil – predicated on the notion that black lives do not matter – for graver cruelties to come. African-Americans, it seems, are now the proverbial frog placed in water that is then slowly brought to boiling without the frog noticing. In 1964, the community rose up and fought against the violence and mayhem. Slowly, as the body politic is submerged and the heat applied the fledgling grows weaker.
The question remains: What is the endgame?
“We now know what to expect from the president's commission on policing – nothing.”
We don't know the last 10 minutes of Trayvon Martin's life. We have the conflicting testimonies from Rachel Jeantel, the young woman who was on her cell phone with Trayvon when he was being stalked, and George Zimmerman, his killer, who maintains he killed Trayvon in self defense. We know that Zimmerman defied a police order for him to remain in his car but consummated his hunt anyway. This same George Zimmerman has, since killing Trayvon, threatened 4 other people, spurring Judge John Galluzzo’s ordering Zimmerman to surrender all of his weapons after his last gun-wielding threat to kill another innocent.
And we remember the date of Trayvon’s murder: February 26, 2012 – 50 years to the day that Jimmy Lee Jackson died at the hands of Selma police.
As we discussed in our BAR article, “Holder’s Final Betraying Kiss to the People of Ferguson: The Wholesale Abandonment of Decency,” the system that once forbade Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his compatriots from crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge has morphed, expanded and grown so sophisticated that it now accommodates “peaceful demonstrations” with police escorting protesters from die-ins to “shutting shit down” and now to a president leading the march. This isn't respecting our constitutional right to petition the government for redress of grievance. No. This is appeasement and patronizing.
If our community can recover from our celebration of celebrity and electing the first black president, we will have learned some valuable lessons. We now know what to expect from the Obama administration – nothing. We now know what to expect from the president's commission on policing – nothing. We now know that the police have been instructed to tolerate our fitful outbursts as a way for us to blow off steam, to diffuse the energy that builds every time the slave/police patrols collect another bounty. We have by now seen the only real policy the government has to offer – waiting us out until the storm blows over. That's it.
Our power is our genius. We can change direction. We can decide to take back our neighborhoods, control the people who patrol our streets and redirect our energies from giving our power to political celebrities to redirecting our power to ourselves. As Malcolm X reminds us:
“When a person places the proper value on freedom, there is nothing under the sun that he will not do to acquire that freedom. Whenever you hear a man saying he wants freedom, but in the next breath he is going to tell you what he won't do to get it, or what he doesn't believe in doing in order to get it, he doesn't believe in freedom. A man who believes in freedom will do anything under the sun to acquire... or preserve his freedom.”
If we start to believe, like James Baldwin, that “The impossible is the least that one can demand,” then what part of bringing about the “impossible” are we not willing to do?
~ Marsha Coleman-Adebayo serves as Director of Governmental Transparency and Accountability at the Green Shadow Cabinet