A Funeral, Two Graduations, and a Milestone Birthday Celebration

In a six-day span, I attended my baby brother’s funeral, our two daughters’ graduations, from middle school and high school, and my sister Cheryl’s milestone (60th) birthday celebration.

At Whitney’s funeral, I spoke on behalf of our family. Here, I want to share those words.

The last seven days I have cried more than I have in my 60 years of life. I am tired. I have been wrestling with God these past seven days, fighting him over the death of my baby brother.

I barely understand the mystery of life. I certainly do not understand the mystery of death. “The Last shall be first?” Is this what you mean, God?

Whitney was the last child born of our mother and father. He was born into a household of a mother, a father, a brother, and three sisters.

Whitney was the comedian in the family. If you were going to meet him for the first time, then my sisters would joke and apologize in advance. Whitney had a wicked wit — I called him Whit — and although he never said anything offensive, my sisters were just covering the bases, because we really did not know what Whitney might say or do.

I am the historian in the family, and I fancy myself a storyteller. I am going to tell you two stories. Spoiler alert! They both are about the love we, my sisters and I, have for our baby brother.

But before story time, I want to thank everyone for their love and support for my family, and Whitney’s extended families, and of course, Whitney’s fiancee, Cynthia.

Cynthia and Whitney were to be married on August 21st. We had planned a wedding. Instead, we are at Whitney’s funeral. Whitney was the best man at my wedding. I was to be his best man at his wedding. That’s how the Waters brothers roll!

Cynthia, I believe we have three stages of life. We, men, barely get it right the first two times. Whitney was in his third life. He reconnected with you, the love of his life. When I got married, Whitney told me he had never seen me happier. I had not seen him happier once he committed to marry you.

STORY ONE

In one of the pictures in the slide show, Whitney is 10 years of age, at our mother’s funeral. He is surrounded by a cousin, and his three sisters, his guardian angels, dressed in white.

Jeanette, on that day, became Whitney’s mother. I know that grief cannot be quantified, and our grief is exponential, four times the greatest number, but Jeanette’s grief is double ours, her siblings. She was Whitney’s sister, but became his mother when she was 19. Obviously, she did a great job raising our brother.

Growing up, Jeanette was known as “Fighting Jeanette.” She had some epic rumbles in the concrete jungle of the Marcy Projects that would have made Muhammad Ali proud. Jeanette, if she had to, would fight for our brother, would put her life on the line for him.

Cheryl embodies our mother’s spirit. If she had not heard from Whitney in two or three days, then she would call him until she got him, telling him that he could not let two or three days go by without calling one of us. The “Us” referred to one of his three sisters.

Cheryl, Whitney’s Guardian Angel.

Wanda was the baby until Whitney came along. From the very beginning, she fiercely loved him. Wanda had to compete with our mother and two sisters for facetime with our baby brother. She was last in the pecking order to hold him and spend time with him.

Wanda does not remember this, She was 5 or 6, but one day, she finally had her facetime with Whitney. She was in our parents’ room, cuddling him. I snatched Whitney out of Wanda’s arms. Our mother had a tabletop sewing machine right next to the bed. On it was a disposable razor. One second I was holding Whitney, the next I was holding my shoulder, a gash on it, and Whitney was back in Wanda’s arms. She moved like a ninja!

I tell this story because it speaks to, even at a young age, the fierceness of Wanda’s love for Whitney. From this day on, I will remember this scar on my shoulder as a symbol of Wanda’s fierce love for Whitney.

In this story, Wanda is the Equalizer. Think Latifah reprising the role of Denzel Washington, in The Equalizer, on the small screen. And me, even at my young age, I just wanted to spend more time with my baby brother. I had lived in a household with three sisters, and they have this sisterhood thing going on. Always have. Then, even though I could not articulate it, with the birth of my brother, we now had a brotherhood.

And now for a commercial.

Brothers, there’s this book The Body Keeps Score. All you need to know about it is that the body remembers everything, what has happened to it. I know we sometimes think we are invincible, and when younger, immortal. But we’re not. If you are experiencing pain, then do not ignore it. Your body is trying to get our attention, to tell you that it needs something. Don’t hesitate to go to the doctor. Most ills are preventable or treatable. Sisters, nag the men yin your life to go to the doctor until they go to the doctor!

STORY TWO

In the last chapter of the Gospel According to John, the Risen Christ has a conversation with Simon Peter. He asks him the same question three times. Do you love me? To which Simon Peter says yes.

To fully understand this exchange, we need to know that Jesus and Simon Peter are using two different words for love. Those wise Greeks had five words for love. (What we call the New Testament was originally written in Greek.) I’ll roughly translate.

Jesus says, do you have this great, unconditional love for me?

Simon Peter answers, I love you like a brother.

Jesus says again, do you have this great, unconditional love for me?

Again, Simon Peter replies, I love you like a brother.

Knowing that this is as good as it gets, the third time Jesus says to Simon Peter, do you love me like a brother?

And they really are not on the same page. For the third time Simon Peter says, Yes, I love you like a bother! He says this as if Jesus finally gets it!

I love my brother like a brother. He was my brother. But I also loved my brother with the great, unconditional, nonjudgmental love that Simon Peter could not articulate to Jesus.

In conclusion, I want to leave you with two lines from a song.

At I.S. 318, I was in the chorus. Our signature song was Diana Ross’ “Touch Me in the Morning.” Tuesday morning [June 1, 2021], Jeanette and I touched our baby brother after he had breathed his last breath, and through my grief that song flooded my mind.

Wasn’t it me who said that nothing good’s gonna last forever?

And wasn’t it me who said, let’s just be glad for the time together?

We are glad for the time together with you, Whitney!

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Prosecuting Murder Most Foul!

In 1976, a childhood friend, at age 16, was charged, tried and convicted of felony-murder as an unarmed nonkilling accomplice, where robbery was the underlying felony, in which an individual was killed by one of my friend’s codefendants, with a knife he took from the victim. My friend was held without bail for a little more than a year before he literally had his day in court — his trial lasted one day! He was summarily sentenced to 20 years to life after the killer testified that my friend was with him when he killed the individual. Note that the killer was sentenced to 18 months as a juvenile delinquent!

This made me think of Kimberly Potter, the former cop who shot and killed 20 year old Daunte Wright. She was charged with manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in Minnesota. After being booked, she posted $100,000 bond and was back on the streets in six hours. My friend was not back on the streets until 24 years later!

As someone who has studied the law, who has a degree of expertise in the felony-murder rule, a much criticized law by legal scholars almost since its common law inception in around 1526 in England, when the January 6th Insurrection went down, and when a number of insurrectionists were arrested, I wondered then and I wonder now why none of them have been charged with felony-murder for the death of a Capitol police officer. The felony-murder rule is a strict liability crime — so strict that at one time if police officers were apprehending the persons of interest and shot and killed either one of the suspects or an innocent bystander, the suspects would be charged with the homicide the police committed — and practically stands alone as a crime where prosecutors do not have to prove each and every element of the crime. Prosecutors know it’s the easiest pathway to a murder conviction. In fact, when New York State was in the process of revising its Penal Code, in 1967, there was some support for abolishing the felony-murder rule, but there was strong opposition from prosecutors. So, more than 50 years after New York overhauled its Penal Code, the archaic felony-murder rule remains on the books, as it does in most states.

Now, here’s the kicker in my childhood friend’s case. The prosecutor charged, tried and convicted another one of my friends with felony-murder for the same crime, but under the theory that he was the actual killer! Scott Turow, in one of his legal thrillers, wrote something like, “It’s a practical impossibility to try and convict two people for the same crime.” Only in fiction, Scott, only in fiction! I have evidence that two childhood friends, one the actual murderer, was charged with killing the same person, at separate trials, before the same judge, which illustrates another point: when prosecutors and even judges brag about their conviction rates, then you know that there is something fundamentally wrong with our criminal legal system, which allows people to not serve justice, but their individual careers.

The criminal legal system is not a system of justice. It incentivizes judges and prosecutors to seek convictions at the expense of the truth. In fact, I have one more childhood friend who was tried and convicted for a murder Brooklyn prosecutors knew he did not commit. At the time of his trial, the prosecutors knew that he was in the state of Florida when the homicide, in Brooklyn, went down. He spent two decades in prison. Had not Kenneth P. Thompson, the first Black D.A. in Brooklyn, set up a Conviction Integrity Unit, and my childhood friend’s case was not one of the cases the Conviction Integrity Unit looked at, who knows, my childhood friend would not have been exonerated. The evidence of my childhood friend’s innocence, the fact that he was in Florida when someone else committed the murder, two decades later, remained in his case folder. This exculpatory evidence had not been turned over to my childhood friend’s attorney, clearly a violation of the rule of law, of ethics, of humanity. For cases like this, where prosecutors blatantly disregard the law and send people they know to be innocent to prison for years, there should be a severe penalty. If this was me, I would rather the prosecutor spend 20 years in prison for knowingly using false testimony against me than the millions the City paid out to my friend. Who knows, he might have made those millions on his own, as we grew up in the same neighborhood, Marcy Houses, as Jay-Z and Tracy Morgan.

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Palm Sunday, the Crucifixion, and the Criminal Justice System

Today is Palm Sunday. All lectionary churches read from The Passion of Christ from the Gospel According to Mark, believed to be, according to Biblical scholars, the first written account of the four Gospels. (It’s actually one Gospel, with four accounts of the life and death of Jesus – from Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John.)

When I studied theology, I learned about the different ways to look at Biblical texts. There is the religious-confessional approach (think the Nicene Creed); the historical-critical approach; and a literary-critical approach. However, as a criminal justice practitioner, I tend to look at certain texts in the Bible from a criminal justice lens.

The arrest, trial, conviction, sentence and execution of Jesus reads like a true crime story one would read today. The accusers and prosecutors are people who have something to gain; the “eyewitnesses” are unreliable; Jesus’ co-conspirators or codefendants betray and deny him; Jesus has no lawyer to defend him (note that before the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, there was no universal requirement that people accused of crimes and standing trial would have legal representation); Jesus has a speedy trial (ironically, something most people do not get today; think Kalief Browder, a teenager, who was held on Rikers Island for nearly three years awaiting his day in court for a crime he did not commit); Jesus is sentenced to the death penalty; he has an indifferent judge who could care less if he lives or dies; a blood thirsty public that calls for his execution as they mock and abuse him; police brutality on his way to death row; and faithful women who are there till the end.

A number of years ago, I gave a homily on this passage, entitled, “We Are All on Trial.” In it I stated something like what the cross revealed that fateful day was where all the players stood in relation to the cross, to justice. How they responded in that moment revealed where they stood on the important issues of crime and punishment. Today, the cross still carries that message. Every crime implicates the People of any given state, in that everything that plays out in the criminal legal system is done in the name of the People, The People of the State of New York v. Anyone Accused of a Crime.

If this thing called criminal justice is done in our name, then we ought to make it as fair and impartial as humanly possible. Otherwise, justice is just a word. But it should be more than that, because people are deprived their precious liberty, held in prison for extraordinarily long periods of times, and sometimes executed in the name of People.

One of my favorite justice quotes, which I almost always looked to find a way to sprinkle in a legal brief or motion, was, Fiat justitia ruat caelum. I would cite it just like that, without the translation, hopefully sending opposing counsel and the judges, who might as well had been dead to the idea of justice, thus their penchant for communicating in a dead language, to the definitive legal dictionary, Black’s Law Dictionary.

Let just be done though the heavens fall.”

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A Good White Woman is Hard to Find

I recently met some amazing people, one a Flannery O’Connor Scholar, which had me revisit O’Connor’s works. Granted, I hadn’t read her since college, a very long time ago, where almost all literature courses had you reading dead white men and dead white women, but I still remember the first story I read by O’Connor, “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” As most things with O’Connor, she is complicated, and conflicted. The tragedy is that she died so young, and thus didn’t have the opportunity to repent of her sins, rooted in America’s sin of slavery and segregation.

In any event, a friend and colleague suggested that I write a poem or two about Flannery O’Connor’s work for an upcoming conference in which I’ll be participating, and thus I returned to the first story I read by her, twisting her title, using my favorite form, the Pantoum.

“I don’t like negroes.  They . . . give me . . . pain.”

Frankly, Flannery, I don’t give a damn!

The good ship “Anne” landed in 1773, colonizing

“Georgia,” slavery’s outpost, ‘till the Atlanta Campaign.

 

Frankly, Flannery, I don’t give a damn,

About your antebellum architecture and race ideas!

It’s not 1773, or 1863;

You seemingly don’t want to live in 1963.

 

Not of this brave new world, your antebellum ways and race ideas!

William T. Sherman scorched the blood cotton fields.

All is lost, yes!, all is lost – the Lost Cause.

We march to the beat of a different drum major!

 

William T. Sherman scorched the blood cotton fields,

As the Union Army marched to the sea to claim victory.

Yes, we march to the beat of a different drum major,

Marching, singing, and overcoming your hate.

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“Don’t Drop the Soap!”

“Don’t drop the soap!” That phrase, with its origins in prison, has made its way into popular culture. Comedians invoke it, and even spin it. Chris Rock, for example, in one of his skits, talks about the “tossed salad” in prison. In the HBO Series, OZ, there’s an episode where not only is an individual raped, but the rapist also brands him with a tattoo: “Your ass belongs to me!”

Prison rape is real, and only recently have we as a society seem to have taken it seriously. The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) was unanimously passed by Congress in 2003, a mere 18 years ago. Often, when we think of prison rape, we might think of an older person in prison, usually male, sexually assaulting a younger, more vulnerable person in prison. (There is the scene from the Shawshank Redemption where a new jack is repeatedly raped. One person comments that this is practically a ritual in prison, that it happens to almost everyone.) It happens in women’s prisons, too, with the added element of male guards raping the women in their “care.”

In the famous, award-winning prison news magazine, The Angolite (out of Angola Prison in Louisiana), a 1976 expose, “The Sexual Jungle,” spoke to the prevalence and horrors of prison rape.

People in prison, as a formerly incarcerated individual reminded me, often become desensitized to the brutality that’s present behind the walls everyday. Additionally, the famous prison gallows humor comes into play, where some laugh, because they are desensitized to the violence, and to prevent themselves from crying, which would show them as vulnerable and thus put on the “watch list” of those in prison who prey on others.

During the heyday of AIDS, a bootie bandit, as these rapists are called in prison, confided in me that he had to retire from being a bootie bandit, as if it was a profession, because of AIDS. He was notorious for seducing younger persons in prison, as young as 16, who had not yet discovered their sexual identity. (Those in the know will testify to the fact that this “seduction” is often the tactic used to rape younger people in prison.) This bootie bandit was well read, and in these matters acted like, and invoked, Roman Emperors, think Caligula.

Prison is the absence of ________ (fill in the blank with everything you hold near and dear, and you just get a glimpse into the world of prison, a place not only of brutality, but also ignorance).

Angela Davis, in her autobiography, If They Come in the Morning, writes that jails are “senseless places.” She goes on to write that they are senseless in the sense that no thinking is done by their administrators, and that the void created by this absence of thought is filled with nonsensical rules, and the fear of establishing a precedent, meaning a rule they have not yet digested.

To illustrate the point above, a number of years ago I was at a fundraiser of a friend who started a nonprofit organization serving women impacted by the criminal legal system. Ernie Hudson was the keynote speaker. As some of you may know, he played the Warden in OZ. He recounted how he got phone calls from real wardens, asking him for advice on how to run their prisons. I remember laughing hysterically, and thinking of the above quote by Angela Davis.

But prison rape is no laughing matter!

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Fifty Shades of Green

The title of this blog may have led you to it, perhaps thinking that it was going to be something freaky about the Irish on this St. Patrick’s Day.  Granted, today I’ve seen sexy pictures of women in green on social media, but that is not what this blog is about.

St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland.  He was born in Britain, which was then occupied by the Romans.  According to the autobiographical Confessio of Patrick, when he was 16 he was captured by Irish pirates and taken as a slave to Ireland, where he was held captive for six years.  While in captivity, Patrick turned to faith and ultimately converted to Christianity.  He would eventually escape and make his way back to Britain, where he continued to study Christianity.

As is often the case with religious figures, Patrick had a vision that would lead him back to Ireland where, over the centuries, he becomes a mythical creature, given credit for, among other things, banishing snakes from Ireland.  The shamrock, which is often associated with the Irish, was used by Patrick as a metaphor for the Christian Holy Trinity.  Patrick’s walking stick grows into a living tree.  (Think the Tree of Life, or the Tree of Good and Evil.)  And Patrick speaks with ancient Irish ancestors.  (Think Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah.)

March 17th is believed to be the day that St. Patrick died.  Different accounts date his death, in 461/2 and 492/3, at the age of 120.  (Think the long life the Patriarchs are said to have lived.)

So, this March 17th, especially in New York City, we are all Irish.  Because of the pandemic, the famous St. Patrick’s Day Parade is virtual.  The bars will not overflow with patrons.

This St. Patrick’s day, though, I think of my mother, and what she once told us as kids.  “Today, you’re going to meet your white relatives.”  I imagine she said this with tongue-in-cheek.  I don’t recall the day we met these white relatives.  I do know that 3% of my DNA is from Wales, and 2% is from Scotland.  I don’t think this makes me “Black Irish,” but it speaks to the role of the Irish during the era of slavery in the “New World.”

My maternal grandparents came to America in 1919 and 1923, by way of Panama and Barbados, not on a slave ship, but another ship, and was processed through Ellis Island.  AncestryDNA revealed a second cousin connected to this part of my family tree.  He is white, as we identify people of European descent in America.  My paternal side has roots firmly planted in the South, in North Carolina.  Interestingly, when I get as far back as 1805, one of my ancestors is listed on the census records as a “mulatta.”  I am shaking my family tree, as hard as I can, to see what white people will fall out, but they are holding on tightly, not wanting to be exposed, at worst, rapists, at best, absentee fathers for the children they sired.

As far back as I can remember, on St. Patrick’s Day, our mother would make sure we wore something green.  I don’t think this was to be in solidarity with our white ancestors.  Black people are people of great empathy.  They share in and celebrate other people’s culture.  You can see us celebrating the Chinese New Year, the West Indian Day Parade, the Puerto Rican Day Parade, etc.  We do know how to be in solidarity with others.  Others seem not to know how to be in solidarity with us.  Other races should look to Black folk.  There is so much to learn from us, about empathy, compassion, resilience, and triumph.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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“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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