“They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order and altogether unfit to associate with the White race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior that they had ‘no rights which the White man was bound to respect’; and that the Negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.”
– Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, Dred Scott Case, 1857
Isn’t this 2017? The above words were spoken 160 years ago. Obviously, in light of federal prosecutors not finding any cause to indict the cops who killed Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Justice Taney’s words still ring true. To that end, Black people have no civil right to life that prevents us from being shot and killed by police officers who are, in turn, given a paid vacation and allowed to go free. Sickening? Frightening? Evil? Uncivilized? All of the above?
Before you start throwing out all the excuses for Mr. Sterling’s demise, I know he had numerous arrests and convictions for other crimes, none of which, however, called for the death penalty. I know he was a “big man,” and I know he was struggling against the two officers. I know he was tasered and they said it had little effect on him. I do not know if the gun they pulled from his pocket was put there or if it was his.
I do know what I saw and what I heard, and one point jumped out at me – and still does. What happened to Sterling reminded me of a Black man named Nathaniel Jones, another “big man” who was killed by Cincinnati police officers. Yet another more recent memory is Eric Garner, a “big man” also killed by police. Jones and Garner were killed as the cops repeatedly said, “Put your hands behind your back.” Sterling was killed as the cops were saying, “Get on the ground!”
Lawful orders, yes, but they do not rise to the capital punishment level. What gripes me is that the cops yelled “get on the ground” at Sterling when he was already on the ground and they were on top of him. They shot him three times and then told him to get on the ground; then they shot him three more times. Again, he was already on the ground and under their control when he was shot at point blank range.
The U.S. Department of Justice, under Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, says it can find no indication that Sterling’s civil rights were violated. In other words, Alton Sterling had no rights the two White cops were “bound to respect.” They could force him to the ground, put a knee on his neck, and shoot him six times, all with the full support of the DOJ.
Of course, they did not know their dastardly act was being videoed, but I am sure they knew it was on audio via their own communication devices. So they yelled, “Get on the ground!” for evidence that Sterling was not on the ground yet.
Three questions: What? So what? Now what? The “what” part has been disclosed, and the DOJ has said “so what?” Now it’s up to us to say, “now what?”
Though I have said this for decades, I will repeat myself. The only way to deal with these kinds of situations is through economic sanctions. What made the NCAA and the NBA pull its games out of North Carolina in response to a bathroom law that affected transgender people, who felt the law discriminated against them? Why did then Governor Mike Pence succumb to corporate leaders that said if a proposed law that discriminated against gay people was not rescinded, they would move their businesses out of the state of Indiana?
Why has no athletic group, Louisiana State University, or any major corporation in Baton Rouge threatened to move and/or cancel anything in light of Alton Sterling’s death? It’s because Black folks are so crisis-oriented, for the moment rather than the long haul; we do not seem to be willing to organize ourselves around practical economic strategies that would surely make it clear to everyone that we are just as serious about our rights as other groups are.
Folks in Baton Rouge should demand corporations threaten to do what those in Indiana and North Carolina did. LSU should do what the University of Missouri football team did by refusing to play until justice is achieved for Alton Sterling. The NCAA should cancel its tournaments as they did in support of the transgender population. (After all, being killed is much more serious than going to the bathroom of your choice.) If they refuse, then do not support them.
There must be a price to pay for mistreatment against Blacks. As the saying goes, “Think globally; act locally.”
Jim Clingman, founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce.