Land of the Free

July 21 is my birthday. I enjoyed it by reading and responding to the greetings that were posted to my Facebook wall. There was humor, there were faces that turned up from the distant past, there were suggestions about having fun and enjoyable activities, and there were recommendations about making the joy endure. I was humbled by the fact that so many remembered me.

And then there was the surprise phone call from one who grew up with me in my neighborhood. We share many of the same lessons about etiquette and protocols, values, education, and respect. It’s good to have traditions and steadfastness rooted in a reliable system of values and ethics.

Yes, I also read items in the news and I read things that were being posted by colleagues about various matters of the day and season that had nothing to do with me or my birthday. But there was one post that yanked at my attention. It haunts me even now, so I write in order to share the experience. The reason I write is because the item was a video of Dylan Roof’s arrest. Roof is the young man accused of going to a Bible study at an African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church with a concealed weapon and the intent to kill the attendees. He spent an hour with the group. At the close of the study, he began shooting and killing nine of the attendees, firing into bodies multiple times to make certain they were dead. The video shows how he was treated by South Carolina police.

That arrest is in sharp contrast to recent videos of others that have been published on Facebook wherein minorities have a confrontation with police and are treated with a great deal of brutal hostility even though they appear to be complying with orders and threats from the officers. The ones who are stopped do not have any weapons nor are suspected of having any.

Especially glaring is the difference in treatment of Roof during his arrest contrasted with the video that captured the arrest of Sandra Bland and dashcam footage of the incident that ensued. The reason for the footage was because Bland failed to make a proper lane change signal.

Roof’s car was approached by five officers who spoke to him in a civil manner. The entire scene was quiet. It was reported he was asked if he was hungry and someone went to Burger King to get food for him. On the other hand, the video footage of Bland shows her being forcibly dragged from her car, threatened, thrown to the ground wherein the trauma to her head was so great that she complained she could not hear, held to the ground under the knee of the officer, handcuffed to the point that she complained it felt as though her wrist was going to break. Was she examined or treated for possible injuries after she was taken to jail? No word. Do we see Roof being treated in a similar fashion? After all, he had just massacred nine people and was fleeing justice.

Roof is still alive and facing prosecution. On the other hand, Bland was found dead in her jail cell three days after her arrest. According to police, she hung herself. Later reportage claims a plastic bag was found over her head and tied about her neck which caused the asphyxiation.

This is in sharp contrast to the other arrests we’ve recently seen where the arrestee is slammed to the ground, pinned to the ground, and brutalized. The difference in behavior can partly be attributed to a different location and different training of officers. But the other videos are of minorities who are suffering abuse and are not being hunted down for mass murders or terrorism.

Someone posted a comment to the video. After reading the incendiary words of the comment, I had an epiphany. It became clear that there is a reason why I sing my song of freedom and equality in my own small space. It’s because it is absolutely mandatory that each one of us sing that song and for all the right reasons. It was clear that this is not a solo. It’s simply a matter of the choir is presently scattered across the nation. Some sing the song of freedom as a solo while others form protests and marches. Some urge action from the Department of Justice through petitions or civil action groups. And although becoming more sparse with each new incident, there are small numbers who resort to rioting. Rioting is not the answer.

July 21 was my birthday and many posted on my Facebook wall with wishes that this be a day filled with joy and the beginning of a promising and fruitful new year of life.

With the number of incidents like Bland and other minorities on the rise, and the more publicity about how these unarmed, minority citizens attempting to conduct themselves in a responsible manner while carrying out normal business affairs, I cannot truly have joy. It won’t happen until I can feel certain that anyone can travel the streets of any town or city without fear for life or limb unless it is an area that is known for its violence.

Even then, I cannot find joy and happiness when there are areas that are so unsafe that you go there at your own risk while also realizing that if you call for police assistance, they will not come. If they do show up, it will be long after the fact of harm having meted out its consequences on your flesh. Or in the alternative, the police will show up promptly in order to protect the one who is causing the harm and peril.

I cannot find joy and happiness when some people are treated as disgusting elements, not humans, and their possessions are treated with even less regard. I cannot find joy and happiness when people are insulted merely for the sake of the color of their skin or the uninformed, low opinion of someone with regard to their abilities, talents, potential, value to their own selves, let alone their community, no matter what the size or location.

The incidents of which I write today are just a sampling of things that have happened in the last six weeks. They repreent Life in America if you are a minority. This is a very sad state of affairs in The Land of the Free. It seems Bob Marley was a visionary when he composed and sang his Song of Freedom, the Redemption song

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