“Sound of da Police”

In his 2000 album, his first solo album, “Return of the Boom Bap,” KRS-One has a classic rap about da police, entitled, “Sound of da Police.” The chorus begins:

Woop-woop! That’s the sound of da police

Woop-woop! that’s the sound of da beast!

KRS-One goes on to rap about cops who sell crack, that he’d never be a cop, comparing a cop to a “wicked overseer!” (In one of my collections of poetry, Sometimes Blue Knights Wear Black Hats, a 2000 National Poetry Series competition finalist, I compare Blue Knights to White Knights, pointing out the historical connection.)

When we look at the cops and community relations, specifically in communities of color, KRS-One hits the bull’s-eye!:

You hotshot, wanna get props and be a savior

First show a little respect, change your behavior,

Change your attitude, change your plan

Just the other day, in the heart of the ‘hood, I saw the following bumper sticker on a cop’s personal car in front of the 73rd Precinct in Brooklyn.

That’s on the left side of the bumper of the cop’s personal car.

I’ve said this once, and I’ll say it again and again: Black people are not anti-police. They simply don’t want to call the police when a relative is having a mental health meltdown and that relative, instead of finding the help he or she needs, is shot, oftentimes fatally. They don’t want to hear specious justifications for the killing of unarmed Black men, women and children. They don’t want police officers offering “funny” Valentines, kneeling on the necks of unarmed people until they “take their breath away.” They don’t want police storming into apartments at the midnight hour with no-knock warrants and killing people in their homes.

On the right side of the bumper of the cop’s personal car:

We know, through the crimes of the Capitol Hill insurrectionists, how some white people who swear by “law and order” really feel about it when it is not being wielded against Black people, that is, Blue Lives Only Matter as a counterpoint to Black Lives Matter, as if the origin story of #BlackLivesMatter is made up. #BlackLivesMatter speaks to all the killings of people by law enforcement. The Fake News proponents would like to change this narrative, but it is now a global movement that stands up to unwarranted and unjustified police violence. Let me say that again: unwarranted and unjustified police violence.

Obviously, this cop and his/her bumper sticker speaks volumes about the attitude of some cops — let me remind them that Black people pay taxes that pay their salaries — about serving and protecting communities of color. Yes, that’s the sound of da police!

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Happy Black History Week!

Dear Black People, My People (although I suspect some enlightened white people, and some who are the enemies of Black people, will read this)!

Preamble: This should be a self-evident truth. We do not have to prove ANYTHING to white people, least of all our humanity. In fact, the burden of proof is on white people, to prove that they can at the very least act humanely towards Black people.

Happy Black History Week, formerly Negro History Week, created by one of our Black scholars, Carter G. Woodson, in 1926! (It was observed during the second week of February, a symbolic nod to Abe Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, born in the second week of February). Forty-four years later, we celebrated and declared the whole month of February, albeit the shortest month of the year, Black History Month. The goal is to have every single month Black History Month! I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again and again: Black history is American history, and there is NO American History without Black History!

This Black History Week, I want to draw attention to the “White Privilege Playbook.” (I believe I coined this phrased, so if you use it, then please give me credit!)

Most if not all Black people are familiar with the terms from the White Privilege Playbook, because it has been weaponized against us, although I believe they have not yet been catalogued. The below list is NOT exhaustive, just the tip of the White Privilege Iceberg. I’ll begin with two that have been added within the last four years:

cancel culture;

FAKE News;

reverse discrimination;

affirmative action;

unconscious racism;

white fragility;

the race card;

political correctness;

“Go back to Africa!) (Often exclaimed by whites who do not have a longer history in America than Black people).

Note that all these terms have a connotation clearly understood by white people, even when they find it hard to articulate. And Black people know that all of these terms are false flags. If you don’t, Black People, My People, then my book recommendation for you this Black History Week is from our very own Black scholar, Carter G. Woodson, who created Black History Week, “The Miseducation of the Negro.

The Racial Divide in America is due in large part because most Americans are indoctrinated and miseducated. We should all be lifelong learners, although there’s a lot of stuff we have to unlearn!

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Black Lives Have Always Mattered

More than 20 years ago, long before #BlackLivesMatter, I noticed a disturbing trend: almost everyday in the news there was a case of police brutality, mostly against Black people, with a few white people sprinkled in because, even though this police brutality is often wielded like a billy club against Black people, it can be indiscriminate, in that when it is unleashed, anyone in the way of the blue wave of violence is knocked down by it.

As a poet, I started writing a poem for each case of police brutality that was reported. Before I knew it, and without conscious design, because I had written so many of these poems, I had a collection, which I entitled, Sometimes Blue Knights Wear Black Hats. This collection was a National Poetry Series Finalist in 2000.

As I have written elsewhere, a tree growing even in Brooklyn has a different meaning for Black people. We unconsciously shiver at the sight of a tree, even during the dog days of August. And although we often associate lynch mobs with the South, during the Draft Riots in NYC in 1863, a number of Black people were lynched, including a 7 year old boy. Indeed, lynching practically became an American pastime. There are numerous photos turned into postcards of both sober and smiling white men, women and children around Black bodies hanging from trees. Before social media was envisioned, white people proudly, as brutal and bloodly cautionary tales, recorded their dirty and deadly deeds against Black people.

This history will not die, despite how far too many white people want to bury it. In fact, when you have lived though these events, it is not history. This “history” almost always makes me think of my father, a native Southern Son, who had migrated North to New York City and met my mother, a first generation Bajan. In the ’60s and ’70s, every Fourth of July, my father would get in his Cadillac and drive South to visit his father and his family. He never took me, his first born son, on any of these trips. I didn’t understanding it at the time, but my father had served in the segregated U.S. Army as a teenager during WW II. I was born five years after Emmett Till was brutally killed by white Southerners. I can only imagine how that image played in my father’s mind, and all Black fathers, that they could not protect their sons from this virulent white violence. To protect me, he left me home when he journeyed South.

As a native New Yorker, when I traveled South as an adult, I was taken aback by all the monuments and statues to the treasonous Confederacy. Nonetheless, I know they are there to stand guard, to remind Black people of their place in the Southern hierarchy and landscape.

This passage through memory lane reminds me how the past and the present are connected, how the lynch mobs are connected White Knights and Blue Knights.

In one of my poems in Sometimes Blue Knights Wear Black Hats, “Blue Knight Riders,” I write:

They don’t wear white sheets

Or burn crosses in the night,

But there’s an unmistakable connection

Between these blue and white knights.

#BlackLivesMatter

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The Terrorist You Know

Canada has declared the “far right” group the Proud Boys a terrorist group, which has various implications, even going after fundraising and funding sources, that is, bank accounts linked to the group may be frozen and assests seized. The United States, however, does not even have a law or Executive Order to designate an entity like the Proud Boys a “domestic terrorist group.”

When we look at the history of domestic terrorism in the United States, culminating in the January 6th Trump-inspired Insurrection, in which the Proud Boys were prominently involved, it is almost always white violence against Black people.

There is a long list of this white violence against Black people in America, lest we forget, and it is worth noting that in almost every single case no one was brought to justice. In fact, we know who the domestic terrorists were, because they proudly posed and took pictures in front of the buildings they burned and the black bodies they beat, burned, castrated and hung. (Most recently, they live streamed their crimes on social media.)

There are the Draft Riots of 1863 in New York CIty, in which eleven Black men were hung, including a 7-year-old boy. The Reign of Terror from 1877 – 1950, when 4,400 Black men, women, and children were hanged, burned alive, shot, drowned, and beaten to death by white mobs. The Red Summer (Black Summer) of 1919, which saw 25 race riots rage across the country, in which there are 97 recorded lynchings, and the massacre of over 200 Black men, women and children in Elaine, Arkansas, Black sharecroppers whose crime was trying to organize for better work conditions. Interestingly, many white servicemen were involved in these race riots. There was a lot of anxiety among them, because there were 380,000 Black World War I veterans who had returned to the United States determined to fight segregation and brutality. In fact, the Black servicemen were the targets of the white servicemen. But Black Summer marked when Black veterans, armed and trained, fought back. In a sense, this is perfectly captured by Claude Mckay in his famous poem about Black Summer, “If We Must Die.” McKay concludes his sonnet thus:

Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

The Tulsa race massacre of 1921 (the Black Wall Street), where up to 300 people were killed.

These were all acts of domestic terrorism, and even though the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center have classified groups like the Ku Klux Klan as hate groups, even the KKK has not been seen as a domestic terrorist group, with all the Black blood on its white robes.

The United States, specifically our politicians, seem to coddle the terrorists we know, perhaps because historically Black people were their targets. With the attack on the Capitol on January 6th, perhaps this will change. President Biden has asked the director of national intelligence for a comprehensive threat assessment of domestic violent extremism. Hopefully this will lead to a law or an Executive Order where such groups like the Proud Boys can be labeled domestic terrorists, as our neighbors on the Northern border have.

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Happy Black History Month!

Today, February 1, 2021, is Black History Month. Before there was Black History Month, there was Black History Week. Actually, then it was called “Negro History Week.”

In 1926 (the year my father was born), historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History announced the second week of February to be “Negro History Week.” The second week was chosen, symbolically, in that it was the same week of the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.

Black History Month has its origins with Black educators and the Black United Students at Kent State University in February 1969. The first Black History Month took place at Kent State one year later, from January 2 to February 28, 1970. Six years later, during America’s Bicentennial, President Gerald Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every endeavor throughout our history.” Indeed, Mr. President, there is no American history without Black American history!

The counterpoint to the “too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americas” is the writing of history that celebrates Christopher Columbus and the Confederacy.

It is not revisionist history to include history intentionally left out or slanted to make villians out to be heroes. In fact, in what country in the annals of history have rebels who started a Civil War and lost it are continuously honored with statues and memorials for more than 150 years after their defeat? Only in America!

I have read De Tocqueville’s Democracy in America and The Federalist Papers as well as “American history” that has left out the accomplishments of Black Americans. But I have also read W.E.B. DuBois and Carter G. Woodson, exemplary, exacting Black scholars. On the other hand, how many white students of American history have been introduced to the works of Black scholars?

If white poeple are looking for a starting point to begin “racial reconciliation,” then reading the works of Black scholars like W.E.B. DuBois, Carter G. Woodson, J.A. Rogers, Chancellor Williams, and Lerone Bennett Jr. would be a good place to begin. Reading them would begin to change the mythical American narrative.

In his seminal book, Carter G. Woodson wrote about The Miseducation of the Negro. Granted, many “Negroes” have been and continue to be miseducated, because they have been “educated” by white “educators” or Eurocentric Black “educators.” Nonetheless, one could make a greater argument that generally speaking white Americans are even more “miseducated” than Black folks.

A toast to inclusive as well as accurate history!

Happy Black History Month!

Read my award-winning epic poem, based on Black History.

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International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today, January 27th, is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. A Time magazine article, “‘Hate Never Disappears. It Just Takes a Break for a While.’ Why the U.S. Capitol Attack Makes Holocaust Remembrance Day More Important Than Ever,” reveals why we should be deeply concerned about the January 6th Trump-inspired Insurrection.

As I have written elesewhere, one of the most disturbing of so many disturbing images during the January 6th Insurrection was the transformation of the Insurrectionist mob into a lynch mob, chanting, “Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!” The second most disturbing scene was one of the Capitol Hill Insurrectionists wearing a “Camp Auschwitz” tee shirt. Really?

“Camp Auschwitz” was a concentration camp that systematically contributed to murdering millions of innocent people, mostly Jewish, for the “crime” of being Jewish, lest we forget.

What may be just as disturbing, if not more so, were the Jewish people who participated in the January 6th Insurrection. I wonder if one Jewish person saw his or her fellow insurrectionist wearing the “Camp Auschwitz” tee shirt. I have almost always expressed my adminration for the Jewish Nazi Hunters. They had a fundamental understanding that you don’t let evil walk away from its crimes. Ever! No matter how much time has passed. Never!

As we once again begin to hear the “Never Trumpers” language seep into the conversation in order to give Trump a pass at his second impeachment trial, I think of the words of Nobel laureate, Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camp survivor, Elie Wiesel: “Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil.” The U.S. Senate Republican Caucus, prepping and rationalizing to give Trump a pass on procedural grounds in his second impeachment trial, is displaying this evil indifference.

Not only should all the insurrectionists be brought to justice, but also Trump. If the Senate fails to acquit him at his second impeachment trial, then the Office of the Attorney General should file criminal charges against him.

When people become U.S. citizens, they take an oath to defend the Constitution and the country, against enemies, domestic and foreign. We saw domestic terrorists storm the Capitol on January 6th, incited by Trump. We seemingly escaped the worst case scenario. Still, there is much work to do.

As today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, let us mark on our calendars January 6th as Insurrection Day.

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Blue Lives Matter, Brownsville, and Justice Reinvestment

The throngs of Trump’s January 6th Insurrectionists attacking Capitol police plays across my mind, over and over, like it is on rewind. The self-proclaimed “President of ‘Law and Order'” unleashed domestic terrorism and lawlessness practically unseen in the annals of the “Divided States of America.” Commentators have reported that not since the War of 1812 when the British burned the Capitol has America seen anything like this. Why some Republicans are downplaying this assault on our Capitol and democracy, and the treasonous acts and actions of Trump and his sycophants and supporters, is beyond logic. I guess Blue Lives Matter only when they are shooting and killing unarmed people of color?

It has been interesting, and misleading, how some Media has portrayed how Black people see Blue Lives.

Just the other day I was walking by a bodega in Brownsville in Brooklyn. Four Black men were standing in front of the store providing commentary on the suspected “serial killer” who was arrested a couple of days ago in their neighborhood, suspected of having committed at least three homicides over the past five years.

“Now that’s who the cops supposed to shoot dead!” one of the street corner commentators opined. The three others nodded their heads in agreement.

Black people, even in neighborhoods with high crime rates, do not want to see the police “defunded.” They want them to “serve and protect” them, to not have the posture of an occupying army.

The whole “defund the police” narrative was possibly intentionally framed in this manner, maybe not for obvious reasons. But from the very beginning, it was about justice reinvestment, that is, some monies normally overspent on law enforcement would be reallocated and redirected towards crime prevention and invested in the communities that are over policed, read “million dollar blocks.”

A number of years ago it was revelaed that government(s) spent at least one million dollars per block in predominantly communities of color to police, prosecute and imprison people from seven neighborhoods. At another time I will write how this analysis was done by a group of men in prison at Green Haven in 1972, through a Think Tank, and what was born from their brainchild.

In the final analysis, when we look at the Republican response to the Capitol Insurrection, methinks that something is rotten in the District of Columbia.

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Hammerin’ Hank, and Me!

Henry Louis “Hank” Aaron died yesterday, January 22, 2021. As soon as I learned of his death, I was deeply saddened. He was one of my childhood heroes, and when I played Little League Baseball I wore his “lucky” number 44.

“Hammerin’ Hank” was still chasing Babe Ruth’s Major League Baseball (MLB) homerun record when I was playing Little League Baseball. I remember hitting my first homerun, to right field, how exhiliarating it was! I could not even begin to imagine how Hank Aaron was feeling as he closed in on the Babe’s record. At 13, I did not know that Hank Aaron was receiving numerous death threats as he closed in on the MLB homerun record. As someone who played a couple of sports, as someone who is a fan of sports, even today I cannot imagine why people would threaten a sports star as he closed in on an iconic record. The proper response is to root for the person, to root the person on, and to celebrate the accomplishment.

As a Black man born and bred in America, you come to understand that almost everything is colored and overshadowed by race, even, and perhaps especially, sports. Black success, even in sports, is often met by a white backlash. Thus the death threats Hank Aaron received. It might not seem obvious, but all forms of Black success threatens theories of white supremacy (read white “fragility.”)

I will keep hammering away at this point: that the January 6th Insurrection is connected to theories of white supremacy and white fragility, and that it plays out in hard ball, on the field, and in the body politic, in almost everything imaginable.

If they play baseball in Heaven, I know that Hammerin’ Hank Aaron is already on a team, not the Angels, but the Braves. What a brave soul he was. Rest in Power, Hank Aaron, rest in Power!

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“Hang Mike Pence!”

The January 6th Insurrectionists’ assault on our Capitol revealed a number of things beyond the American Divide, which is always racial, although this Insurrection was framed as political by most of the talking heads.

Of all the disturbing images and words from this Trump-inspired coup attempt, what cut to the very core of my being as a Black man born and bred in America, with roots firmly planted in American soil since 1805 — this is as far back I have been able to trace my roots, since my white ancestors, the 12 percent of “white blood” that courses through my veins, are hiding in the family tree — was the lynch mob’s chant of, “Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!” Despite what mostly white politicos and commentators are proclaiming, this is the America Black people know. In that moment, when the lynch mob was not too far from perhaps finding Mike Pence and his family hiding from them, possibly to hang Pence, I was in solidarity with Mike Pence and his family. There is nothing more frightening, nothing more fear-evoking to a Black person in America, than a lynch mob. Just the thought of a hanging touches and triggers something deep in the Black American soul and psyche — the horrors of lynching are part of our collective unconscious, as if we all have experienced it, and we have, on a cellular level — it is in our DNA. I just wonder if, in the moment when the mob was chanting for Mike Pence’s head, if he got a glimpse of or felt any solidarity with the more than 4,400 Black men, women, and children who were hanged, burned alive, shot, drowned, and beaten to death by white mobs between 1877 and 1950, and the millions of Black people who unconsciously shiver at the sight of a tree. Don’t get me wrong, for me it is not about Mike Pence’s politics, and I have nothing against him personally, but it is about his unwavering loyalty to Donald Trump, who debased the Office of the Presidency, who cast him off when he decided to follow the Constitution instead of doing Trump’s final bidding. I have joked that if I were making a movie I would cast Pence as Lucifer, although I know that that is unfair, because Trump is as close to the antichrist as we have encountered and experienced in America. (Shame on you, white Evangelicals!)

I don’t know why this thought just popped into my head — the beheading of John the Baptist — but in the annals of history we have seen people lose their heads for far less when they fall from power and fall from grace. Mike Pence should count himself as lucky!

Finally, just think of the costumes some of the characters wore when they invaded the Capitol. Did they think they were in an episode of Game of Thrones? Well, Winter has come, and Democracy, always fragile, has held on to its head. For now.

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The Amazing Grace of Black People

Just the other day on social media I posted that Black people in America embody amazing grace. That thought came to the forefront of my mind when Lori Marie Key, a Black nurse, sang Amazing Grace at the national COVID remembrance. Even though a white slaver wrote Amazing Grace, no one sings it like Black people in America, no one embodies it like Black people in America.

On this Inauguration Day in America, I think of the poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” Maya Angelou composed for William Jefferson Clinton’s inauguration on January 20, 1993. The poem talked of war and divisiveness, but also of hope for a new beginning of peace. Sixteen years later, Elizabeth Alexander composed a poem, “Praise Song for the Day,” for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration. A verse in Alexander’s poem could very well be uplifted today for Joseph R. Biden Jr’s Inauguration:

I know there's something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot see.

We have seen things in the past four years that we cannot unsee. When looking back on Trump’s tumultuous four years occupying the White House, let’s think of the words of Soren Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher and theologian: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

As we move forward, we know that perhaps the person leaving the White House, the Donald, is the most graceless person who has ever occupied the Oval Office. The person moving into the White House, Joe Biden, has demonstrated some amazing grace, even in choosing Kamala Harris as his running mate, who skewered him during one of the democratic debates.

If you haven’t seen the theme, note the roles played by four Black women on these three Inauguration Days mentioned above.

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