Taking The 51st Shot

About ten years ago I happened to be one of three guests on a television show, along with present NYC councilmember Charles Barron and activist-attorney Colin Moore. The name of the show was “Caribbean Roundtable”, one of the better Caribbean-American talk shows still around. The hostess (Verna Smith) was a Jamaican-born journalist, who just happened to be quite active in Brooklyn’s Caribbean-American political circles; thus her questions were not of the powder-puff variety; not at all, since Verna can be a tough interviewer at times. On Sunday mornings, you can usually catch the show on Cablevision, and at other times on Time Warner cable. The gist of that show was basically an analysis of the results of the 1997 Democratic primary elections, which had taken place a few weeks before. Just before the show ended, the topic of “police brutality” crept in. Given that Barron and Moore brought to the table, tremendous knowledge in this area, they immediately jumped on the issue, offering some insight into the whys and wherefores. When it was my turn to speak, I got a few things off my chest that I had wanted to say publicly for quite some time. My opinions riled both guests. I wasn’t really surprised. The events of last weekend brought back memories of that roundtable exchange. I will get to that in a second.

It appears that early last Saturday morning, five undercover officers from New York’s Police Department (NYPD), sprayed fifty bullets into a car in which three young black men were driving, killing one and injuring the others. The policemen were working undercover at a notorious strip club in Jamaica, Queens, in what was said to have been a drug/prostitution/vice operation. What makes this event momentous is the apparent belief that the three young men never fired a single bullet at these cops, nor did they have any weapons in the car. So here we are, looking at “deja-vu all over again”, given that in February of 1999, NYPD undercover cops took 41 bullets to kill an innocent and unarmed black African-born male, named Amadou Diallo.

I have lived in New York City for the last thirty-three and a half years, and I have seen (through media /of course) my share of deaths suffered at the hands of NYPD officers; the vast majority of those who died in these instances were black men. This fact is undisputable. Way back in the seventies, I remember marching over the Brooklyn Bridge with hundreds of protesters led by Rev. Hubert Daughtry; in the eighties I marched with protesters led by Rev. Al Sharpton; in the nineties I also marched against police excesses; I am marched-out. Weary feet are now wary feet, and yet my anger grows; so how do I vent in a rational way? How do I show my indignation without breaking the law, or breaking some bones? Should I slap a white cop for my mental health? (Just kidding folks.) Or should I just put on my marching shoes once again, and walk a few more miles and shed a few more tears?

But wait, three of these cops were black. Does that matter? Is that significant? Is racism not involved here? All these questions are wild cards, and all those who have been close to the issues around “police abuses” now agonize over this event, the latest in a very long death-list; the latest in an ostensibly non-ending chain.

So now back to that 1997 roundtable tv program, and to what precipitated an argument that spilled over into the street, long after the taping: I essentially implied that relative to issue of “police-brutality”, Al Sharpton was ambulance-chasing. Let me explain that a little more. I stated then that there was a level of political impotency to Al Sharpton’s racing from the scene of one police brutality incident to another, when these incidents recur like a decimal. I also said that Sharpton’s inability to effectuate and / or influence policy and/or legislative changes-which could aid in minimizing these incidents-, rendered him almost useless in terms of solving or resolving this issue en total. I argued that given he (Sharpton) had been quite vocal in criticizing the NYPD and its policies, he needed to advance some solutions in this regard. He needed to advance ideas that could be implemented, and suggestions for policy changes that could make a difference; because at the end of the night, the casualties are not just one-sided, since the cops and their loved ones also end up suffering- albeit no where close to the suffering and pain of those victimized (and their loved ones). Why, even the citizens of this great city suffer in tangible and intangible ways, when these events occur and recur. Do we now wait for one of these events to lead to a major race riot so this point could be fully proven? Do we now wait for black and Hispanic frustration to explode onto New York streets, a la nineteen seventy seven style? And what about the millions of taxpayer dollars that end up going to settle the civil lawsuits? Is it any wonder that we are the highest taxed state in the union.

For years I have wondered whether or not some of those so-called activists who ride this issue, are after real solutions or just after media-attention. My jury is still out on this one. There are serious chasms in the relationships between law-enforcement / peace officers and members of the black and Hispanic communities in New York (and probably all over this country too). Those chasms are widened further when the officers are white males, especially given the histories of white-male abuses. The unaddressed levels of fear, suspicion and distrust-on both sides of this gulf- further exacerbate the problem. Media–whores, who have no vested interest in solving or resolving the issues therein, only compound things further. We need to question their utility after all these years have flown, and after things seem to remain the same.

So when I watched Al Sharpton show up this week, and Jesse Jackson, and Charles Barron and Hubert Daughtry, and Sanford Rubenstein (the attorney who keeps lining his pockets from the misery and suffering of black people), and the three hundred or so marchers that Sharpton usually draws to these events lately, I had to shake my head. But then what else can they do when they are impotent; except try anything in hopes of a rise. Yet, Sharpton, Jackson, Barron, Daughtry and Rubenstein, all genuinely believe that there is virtue to this type of activism and the prolific exercises in symbolism- exercises of futility for the most part- when police brutality incidents occur. I wonder.

Sometimes I think that “virtues are nothing but vices in disguise”, and as such these five aforementioned characters are now running the risk of being labeled “misery-riders”; riding in when things are grim and dim, when pain is all around, when tears are strong and flowing. Plus, they are selective with their sorrow; something that is somewhat reflective of a type of reverse-racism.

Right now in Staten Island, there is a trial taking place as to the murders of two black police officers; the defendants are also black. It would be nice to see Sharptongue and company show up one day over there, to demonstrate their outrage and indignation. It would also be nice to see Sharpton and company show up when the atrocities are directed towards whites and when the perpetrators are non-white; and although this is rare, these events do occur, and when they do, the Sharpton crew is usually missing in action. Look at what happened to the white NYU student, who lost his life in Harlem earlier this year. The only significant (media-wise) black activist to show up in outrage was Eric Adams.

In all fairness to Al Sharp-tongue however, let me state that all those black elected officials who were so vociferous this week-when speaking out forcefully on last Saturday’s event-are just as impotent as he (politically speaking), since most of them have been in office for years and years while all this has gone on and on. Collectively, they have failed to impress upon their non-black fellow legislators that this issue needs to be addressed in a rather profound manner. Collectively, they have failed to recruit experts to aid in addressing an issue (police brutality) that transcends race, ethnicity, gender, religion, class, et al. Collectively, they have failed to build the coalitions (individuals and organizations/ governmental and private sectarian) that could aggressively confront this issue head on. But they expostulate whenever the cadaver changes name or face; meanwhile, the issue itself and its end results stay the same.

Look, no matter how you slice things, racism is usually at the bottom of most of these police-brutality incidents, or it is at least lurking around the corner somewhere behind the scene of the crime. Black people are just treated differently in so many spheres it isn’t funny. They are not respected as they should be, they are not valued (as fellow humans) as they should be, and the pervasive white-denial of racism’s subtleties offers no comfort in this regard. Police–brutality is just one of the many forms of racism manifesting itself in horrid ways. Racism is alive and well in Hollywood, on Wall Street, on Madison Avenue, in New Orleans, New Jersey and New York. Racism is alive and well in housing, banking, jobs/employment/unemployment, education, and you name it. Racism is alive and well in government, the military, the judiciary and in all other institutions, as it is in law enforcement. Congressman Charlie Rangel nailed it on the head when he expressed that these types of shootings never seem to occur in exclusively white neighborhoods.

Don’t kid yourself into thinking that because four of the five police officers (three black and one Hispanic) who were directly involved this atrocity were non-white that somehow racism as a factor is totally exculpable; fact is the NYPD is racially predisposed to treating minorities differently. Minorities in New York (especially black folks) are subject to both disrespect and inferior treatment on a daily basis. Check out the annual number of complaints filed against police officers; look at the racial and ethnic breakdowns of those who file such complaints. Look at what constitutes the core and substance of their filings. Any reform in NYC must start with the Civilian Complaints Review Board; therein lies part of both the problem and the solution.

So now, here comes the long waiting period; the wait for the results of investigations where “he investigates himself”. Wait for grand juries and/ or trial juries to do another “Randy Evans” (maybe). Wait for some judge to find this shooting justifiable (as normally happens). Wait for the usual suspects to show up with loud voices. Relative to this issue, it seems like that’s what they do best: wait. In this rat race, they wait for the next ambulance to chase. Let’s hope that the next ambulance is filled with Viagra, or Cialis, or Levitra, or anything that cures political impotence.

In this incident, my condolences are extended to the families of Sean Bell (deceased), and all the other victims who are still alive. I could only hope and pray that justice will be served here at the end of the day and night. I hope that “truth will out”, and that all those who were witness to this tragedy will come forward to help lend some clarity to all this sadness.

Stay tuned-in folks.