You're Lucky this Protest is Peaceful

Shawn Hamilton, IUP

“We had a black president for 8 years… Life is so rough for the black man.”

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This was the sarcastic statement that compelled me to write this article. Now to give you some context, this came from the mouth of a twenty-something-year-old woman, in regards to the display of NFL players and personnel kneeling and locking arms in unison, in protest of police brutality and other injustices. The protests upset this young lady because she feels as though kneeling or sitting during the National Anthem is disrespectful to the men and women of the United States armed forces.  According to her logic, the flag represents freedom and equality that soldiers fought and died to protect, so protesting the anthem was essentially an insult to their memory.

Now I certainly disagreed as to the intentions of protestors, but her logic was rational. These types of debates with healthy disagreements often lead to clarity from opposing sides. I proceeded to explain to this young lady that there are people in America, including, but not limited to, African Americans, that feel otherwise. I explained to her that African Americans had fought and died for America in every major war since the formation of the country. Yet curiously enough, African Americans have been marginalized by American society since before Christopher Attux was the first person killed in the Boston Massacre, all the way up until Tamir Rice, and Trayvon Martin. This system of subjugation perpetuated and metastasized throughout the centuries. Regardless of rank, valor, or competence, African American veterans have not historically been afforded the same civil liberties and equal protection under the law that their white colleagues received upon returning home. I went on to tell the story of my uncle, who returned from Vietnam sergeant rank, and a highly decorated war hero, only to be chased out of a restaurant in Maryland for being black. And this is when she uttered those oh so troublesome words.

As to be expected, I went on a two hour Facebook tirade. I pulled every fact and counter argument out of the book. I marveled in the support of my peers, and our coinciding condemnation of this ignorant child. If I have to say so myself, I feel as though we did a great job of “sticking it to her.” So when I reflected on the day’s events, I came to some revealing conclusions. One such conclusion and one that is well documented is the idea that the American experience varies drastically from person to person, race to race, gender to gender, hell eye color to eye color. It is one thing to not agree with a person’s actions of kneeling or standing or protesting whatever it is they see fit, but it is another to condemn one for protesting peacefully in what they believe in. You may not like it, but it is wrong to infringe one's beliefs upon another and to say that the consequences of peaceful protest should be to have one fired or removed from the country altogether. After all, this is America and we were literally born in protest. Threatening people’s right to protest, whether right or wrong, threatens the institution of democracy itself because the principles it champions allows for differing political views and social stances. Stamping out those differences forcefully would be like opening Pandora’s Box mixed with a can of worms.

The New Jim Crow

Another conclusion I came to is the fact that energy needs to be put towards solutions. Yes, factually capitulating a racially insensitive follower of mine felt great. And yes it could and did most certainly raise awareness, and continue the conversation toward tangible changes but it was not the change itself. So I wanted to tackle the biggest issues that hinder black America. I believe that mass incarceration or slavery 2.0 would be a great place for us as a community to start. Now before anyone jumps the gun, and tries to tell me that comparing slavery to mass incarceration is little overboard, well yeah… no. It literally is the same thing in the foundation. Section 1 of the 13th amendment of the United States of America reads as follows. “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the U.S.A or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Sorry to break it to you my fellow Americans, but your relative or friend you knew in high school that’s in jail until they’re 65 aren’t  prisoners, they’re slaves.

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A slave to the state or stockholders, or private institutions that own facilities in which our friends and relatives dwell. Prisoners are paid pennies per hour to complete, at times, labor extensive work, which in turn is sold on the market at regular price. Talk about a flip!! To further exemplify the status of prisoners as slaves, let us highlight their integration back into society. If they are released, many are required to register as felons. Thus making the process of rehabilitation that much harder. Drug felons are denied financial aid, and felons have an equally hard time on the job market as companies openly discriminate against people with past criminal records. So no job, no means to a higher education, well what about partaking in general elections, and helping to fight injustices through political participation? Well you probably guessed it, but people on probation or parole are ineligible to vote. The average probation period being anywhere between 6 months to ten years, and parole periods varying from sentencing to sentencing. That being said, the window of opportunity for positive growth upon release from prison doesn’t seem to be adequate to reincorporating grown men back into society.

Once again the train has come full circle, as black men are again disenfranchised from society through legalized slavery. Since 2/3 of the prison population consists of black men, our communities have faltered as well. The reduction of black men in our communities has left many single parent households. Single parent households are often linked to poverty, and thus the cycle continues. The clause of slavery being legal in the United States must be removed. If it is removed, we as the people could challenge the institution of mass incarceration in federal court. We could challenge it on the grounds that the criminal wages and laws that send people to and from these slave plantations specifically target people of color, and low income neighborhoods where subsidized government cash for prisoners has incentivized higher bail prices that guarantee longer prison stays. We could challenge lobbying groups that spend billions of dollars pushing legislation that convicts petty offenders of minor offences, and ensures a constant influx of new slaves. So in conclusion I would like to say to this young lady, or to anyone who feels similarly about the black man’s position in America, note this; the pointing to a Barack Obama or a Lebron James, or a Stephon Curry as a justification as to why racism in America is overblown, is nothing but a façade to divide the people and to make us complacent in finding solutions to truly making America a land of the free.