Paul R. Lehman, Lessons of the Ferguson grand jury finding

November 25, 2014 at 8:14 pm | Posted in African American, American Bigotry, American Racism, Bigotry in America, blacks, Civil Rights Ats, democracy, discrimination, equality, Ethnicity in America, European American, grand jury, justice, Martin Luther King Jr., President Obama, socioeconomics, whites | 5 Comments
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The finding of no indictment by the grand jury in the Michael Brown case in Ferguson should have come as no surprise to people who are familiar with the history of America’s justice system and its relationship to people of color. The grand jury’s finding underscores the primary reason why African Americans and other people of color have problems of trust with the justice system in America and the law enforcement arm of that system. Even more to the Brown case and the lack of trust in the County prosecutor Bob McCulloch as a representative of the justice system is his recent record of no convictions of police officers involved in shootings.
One of the legitimate concerns of the people of Ferguson at the beginning of the case was the decision to take it to a grand jury. What that decision did was to remove from involvement the citizens of Ferguson from the final outcome of the case in that the grand jury reflected the demographics of the state and not the city of Ferguson. European Americans represent seventy percent of the state of Missouri, but only about thirty percent of Ferguson. A total of twelve members made-up the grand jury with nine European Americans and three African Americans. A total of nine votes were required to decide the outcome of the case. To increase the control of the justice system in this case, everything was kept secret even after the finding—no information on who voted for what or why. Some citizens of Ferguson stated that they believed McCulloch elected to go with the grand jury to shield him from having to take any responsibility for the finding. That self-protection tactic was apparent during his report to the nation when he deferred many of the questions asked by the reporters as being part of the secrecy of the grand jury process.
Although many questions remain to be answered relative to this case, the grand jury’s finding of no indictment indicates a need to address some serious concerns, namely, the state of the criminal justice system in America as it applies to African Americans and other people of color; the need to address the value of African Americans and people of color in American society; the protection of the police force over and above the protection and rights of the citizens of color; the need for the involvement and support of the European Americans in addressing the problem of bigotry.
From the very beginning of his address, McCulloch’s comments were focused on the rights of the police officer Darren Wilson and how the evidence underscored his report of what actually happened during his confrontation with Michael Brown. The problem with that approach was that Wilson was not the victim, Brown was, but no comments or evidence was offered for Brown by McCulloch. What that says to the public is that the value of the police officer’s life is considerably more than that of the citizen. Why? If Americans are to feel and believe that the justice system works for everyone equally, then some attention must be paid to how the daily operations of that system is informed and functions relative to all citizens regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender, etc.
Looking nationwide at the frequency of occurrences of police shootings of unarmed African Americans and other people of color, one is faced with the question of human value in American society. If all Americans regardless of their identity and social status are not treated equally with respect and dignity by the justice system and more specially, the law enforcement agencies, then changes must be made to educate them to meet that standard. One problem in the past regarding pronounced bigotry in crimes against people of color by law enforcement agencies is that no serious repercussions are suffered by the law enforcement agencies; the individuals or the agency is usually exonerated; for example, simply look at Ferguson. Regardless of what the grand jury’s finding was, the fact remains that Michael Brown is dead, Darren Wilson who fired twelve shots at him (not all hit him) and killed him is free of any charge. The public is left with the suggestion that nothing of consequence really happened. We can all forget about the incident because of the grand jury’s findings and go on about our lives and businesses. We need to be reminded that regardless of the circumstances, a human being was killed and that life was valued.
Another lesson we can take from the grand jury’s findings is that if changes of a positive nature are to come to Ferguson and America, then the involvement of European American citizens must be forthcoming. We may try and pretend that bigotry is on the decline in society, but all we need to counter that notion is to look at President Obama and how he has been treated because of his ethnicity. The grand jury’s findings give us an opportunity for soul searching and pause regarding the kind of society we want to become. We know that bigotry is alive and well now, but we also know that the demographic of society is also changing. By the year 2050 many professional social scientists predict that the majority citizens will be brown or non-European. One wonders how the European Americans would want a society to treat them where they represent the minority population.
Society is changing and part of the problems we are experiencing can be seen as growing pains. The old guard that includes bigoted attitudes is trying to maintain the status quo because it represents power and control in most areas of society, but as society changes that power will shift. So, it would behoove the involvement of all citizens to make society what we want it to be based on our democratic government. The Michael Brown case in Ferguson shows us where we are as a society as well as where we need to go. The choice is ours to make and in the words of the late Dr. King, we can “either learn to live together as brothers [and sisters] or perish together as fools.”

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Paul R. Lehman, Letter writer fails to understand MLK’s words and actions for America

February 3, 2013 at 12:13 pm | Posted in Affirmative Action, African American, American Bigotry, American Dream, blacks, Congress, desegregation, Equal Opportunity, equality, European American, fairness, minority, President Obama, state Government, The Oklahoman, whites | 2 Comments
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A letter writer by Georgia Sparks, published in The Oklahoman on the “opinion” page, “Follow King’s Example,”(1/26/13) was surely meant to be well-meaning and kind in addressing King’s words and actions. What becomes apparent in the letter, however, is the lack of understanding the writer had of King’s objective. Most people upon hearing King’s name immediately think of his “I had a dream” speech and all the things he wanted for his children in America. When they think those thoughts, they miss the essence of King’s words and actions. If people would take the time to read the entire speech, they would recognize it for what it is—a protest speech. King was angry at America for not living up to its promise of a fair opportunity to all its citizens, especially to African Americans and other Americans.
The Sparks’ letter stated that “Most people in America are glad that Martin Luther King Jr. was able to help push back the bars keeping minorities from achieving success. He would be glad to see the progress that’s been made toward equality of opportunity.” On the contrary, most people aware of King’s challenge for the nation would be very upset and angry of the little progress that has taken place over the last fifty years. Since Sparks mentioned specifically “minorities,” we might take a look at the progress made by African Americans since King’s death. What we discover is that in many cases they have experienced a lack of progress—more African American young men are in prison than in college, the unemployment rate for African Americans is twice that of European Americans, the death rate is higher, the home ownership is lower. So, what would King be glade about? Of course, not only African Americans have experienced set-backs but also many Americans in general for a variety of reasons.
The bars referred to by Sparks that King tried to bring down or push back are still in place, for the most part. They are represented in the bigotry and prejudice still very much a part of the American fabric and manifest themselves in a variety of ways. Many of those ways were apparent during the last presidential election when some state governmental officials tried to prevent many minority citizens from voting. They are present in the laws that many Congressmen want to pass that would place a hardship of many needy Americans. King would be very up-set at the negative attitude of many Americans for wanting to deprive some citizens of much needed help.
The letter continued , “He [King] would not be happy to see how many people who could have succeeded but instead failed because they abused drugs, failed to secure a good education, chose to go into gangs and drug cartels or chose to go into crime and didn’t marry before having children.” These comments reflect a conception that has not kept pace with reality, but rather remains in a somewhat naive, but warm and secure cocoon. One of King’s primary complaints relative to government’s lack of concern focused specifically on the needs of poor people. Sparks seem to suggest that people want to be poor, ignorant, drug abusers, unemployed and work towards those ends. We know that despite the best laid plans made by people, circumstances occur that disrupt and destroy those plans, and people find themselves in predicaments not of their choosing. Once people find themselves in dire straights, extricating themselves usually prove extremely difficult; some people find it impossible to regain their once enjoyed level of life.
King believed that it was incumbent on society to lend a helping hand as well as a hand up to the people who were in need. We have a perfect example of how King imagined the government could benefit people in need by looking at many of the victims of Hurricane Sandy. The people from that experience who were displaced were not displaced because they wanted to be. Most of them are ordinary, decent, hard-working people who had no say in what Mother Nature did to them. Part of our responsibility as citizens of this great country is to help our fellow citizens when they are in need. Sometime the needs are not as obvious as helping victims of natural occurrences or as immediate. Sometimes the needs include job training and education as well as health care and housing. These are the things King saw as necessary concerns and responsibilities of our society.
Sparks’ letter stated that “People who choose to succeed make good decisions. They work hard to prepare themselves for success. They delay having children until they can marry and take care of them inside a family.” Really? Someone not choosing to be successful might be a possibility, but most people must define success according to the reality of their situation. If all it took to be successful was to choose it and work hard to accept it, certainly more people would be successful. What seems to be missing from Sparks’ comments is an understanding of the various levels of the social-economical conditions in America. She has an idea of what the American dream is and it belongs to everyone—the same dream. One way people can be successful according to Sparks would for them to “…work before they play.”
Although ethnicity is never mentioned in the letter, one cannot avoid the obvious references that suggest and stereotype groups of ethnic Americans. The mere reference to Martin Luther King Jr. usually brings to mind African Americans even though King spoke for all Americans. Sparks again seemed to misplace her focus when she closed her letter with the words about King: “He valued the family structure and took care of his own family. Instead of marching to honor King, I’d like to see people follow his example in their own lives.” What a wonderful thought. King certainly would want people to have families if they desired, but more importantly, he would have wanted society to treat all people fairly so they could choose what they defined as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. To follow King’s example in light of conditions today would mean people marching in protest everyday.

Paul R. Lehman, Opinion writer shows fear and disgust for Jackson and Sharpton’s visit to Tulsa

April 15, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Posted in American Bigotry, American Racism, blacks, Disrespect, equality, Ethnicity in America, fairness, justice, Killings in Tulsa, Media and Race, minority, whites | 4 Comments
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Too often opinions offered on opinion/editorial pages of the newspaper as well as the electronic media cause confusion and misinformation if the writers or speakers are not informed about the subject. We certainly do not stand in judgment of someone’s opinion if it is offered as an opinion. However, when an opinion is offered as fact and it is inaccurate, then we should call it into question. A particular selection published in the Oklahoman (4-13-120) entitled “Media circus is the last thing Tulsa needs after killings” focused on the visits of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and Rev. Al  Sharpton to Tulsa, Oklahoma. The language, attitude, and tone of the article promoted the ideas inconsistent with reality and the truth.

The choice of words used by the writer of the article seems to suggest disrespect and disgust with the subjects, Jackson and Sharpton, as well as the situation, the recent killing of three African American men and the wounding of two more by two European American males. The mere suggestion of a circus coming to town in the persons of Jackson and Sharpton creates a sense of entertainment rather than seriousness about the incident. The underlining suggestion is that Jackson and Sharpton are clowns and therefore their appearance in Tulsa is for a show or entertainment. The headline is correct in stating that a “circus is the last thing Tulsa needs after killings,” so why would it suggest the appearance of these two men would create a circus?

The first paragraph of the article reads:”The Rev. Jesse Jackson came to Oklahoma City 17 years ago this month to express solidarity with black victims of the federal building bombing. Fortunately, we were spared the presence of Rev. Al Sharpton.” This statement suggests that Jackson came to Oklahoma City specifically to express solidarity with African American victims of that event only. To suggest that is misleading and untrue. Jackson expressed solidarity for all the victims. As a Christian and a minister he recognized that all people are children of the same God. The article reference to the city being “spared” the presence of Rev. Sharpton suggest that he would have brought something sinister or destructive to the city with him. One wonders what that might have been in order to cause such a negative reaction.

In the next paragraph we get a sample of more uncomplimentary language associated with Jackson and Sharpton: “ Tulsa won’t be so fortunate. Jackson and Sharpton will descend on Tulsa just as (and because) the national media has descended on Tulsa following the Good Friday killings that appear to be racially motivated.” So, the suggestion is that the national media is the real reason for Jackson and Sharpton “descending” on Tulsa, and not the killings. Wrong again. Jackson and Sharpton were both asked and invited to come to Tulsa because the people in Tulsa knew that the national media would follow Jackson and Sharpton. By bringing those two men to Tulsa, national attention would focus on the killings. History and experience underscores the fact that most crimes in America with African Americans as victims receive very little media attention if any at all.

In addition to the denigrating language associated with Jackson and Sharpton, the attitude suggested in the article is one of suspicion and deceit. The article states that “Police, prosecutors and city officials have their hands full trying to tamp down the emotions surrounding this case. The last thing they need is a media circus with Jackson and Sharpton serving as ring masters.” One wonders what evidence, facts and or experiences lead that writer to think that Jackson and Sharpton would start some sort of physical, violent, and unlawful disturbance? The only evidence of any kind of unlawful, unorganized, and disruptive actions comes from the writer’s own words. Jackson and Sharpton have always maintained that their objective in accepting the invitations extended to them by people involved in situations where justice and fairness is concerned is to seek justice and fairness, nothing more, nothing less. So, why would they be characterized as “ring masters” when, in fact, there is no circus in town?

The tone of the article is one of arrogance and stupidity regarding history and present day occurrences. The article’s author makes a reference to the national interest in Tulsa with reference to the 1921 Riot. The statement reads “What’s the connection? None. In the earlier case armed gangs divided along racial lines. It was certainly not a mass murder like the bombing or the Tulsa shootings. It was less a race riot that a race war.” Evidently, this statement shows a gross lack of concrete facts and reliable information regarding the 1921 riot as well as recognizing the difference between a riot and a war. He might want to read Tim Madigan’s The Burning, or Rilla Askew’s Fire in Beulah for an account of that tradegy. His emphasis is unfortunately, on the physical violence and destruction when the real problem is the administration of justice and fair treatment for all people. He certainly cannot say that the African American community in the Greenwood section of Tulsa was treated fairly after the 1921 riot, and to a degree today.

Without going over the entire article paragraph by paragraph to point out the various areas of ignorance and stupidity let us look at two comments to make our point. Again, referencing the 1921 riot, the article states: “What happened in Tulsa in 1921 was an outbreak of violence exposing widespread racial division that’s not evident in Tulsa today.”If that is true, then no bigotry exists in Tulsa, and the two European Americans arrested cannot be charged with a hate crime (they have been charged  with committing a hate crime). If bigotry is no longer a reality in Tulsa why have not the city moved to make amends for the destruction it participated in back in 1921? The article suggests that no so-called racial division exists in Tulsa today. How true is that? If that is so, why were three African Americans killed by the two European Americans and charged with hate crimes?

Finally, the article’s author asks the question why Jackson and Sharpton are in Tulsa: “So what’s the point of the Jackson-Sharpton visit and the lamentations of members of the Legislative Black Caucus? What will these things accomplish that excellent police work, vigorous prosecution and swift sure punishment of the guilty won’t do by themselves”? That is precisely the point! Jackson and Sharpton want exactly that to happen now, because it has not happened with any regularity in the past. By their presence, the need for equal justice and fairness for all American citizens will be closely scrutinized by the national media brought there by Jackson and Sharpton.

If the writer of the article would stop and think for a moment, what should become apparent is the fact that Jackson and Sharpton are not the enemy as they are portrayed. They simply want for African Americans and all Americans fair and equal justice under the law. Why would anyone object to that? The language, attitude, and tone of this article indicated a fear and expectation of evil, violence, and unlawfulness that is purely unwarranted.

 

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