Our Power Can Stop Madness

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Our marches lack a carrot or a stick. Without either the city readily issues a permit. They tell us where to march. They tell us when to march. They tell us when it is over. No! Marching without more makes my legs tired.

[Op-Ed]



Kheil Coppin is a casualty of war, the latest in the New York City Police Department’s offensive against the Black community, males in particular.

Kheil should be alive. The police knew or should have known he had no gun. Police always say if they are slow in shooting, it will have a chilling effect. What they really mean is that the life of a police officer is more valuable than even an innocent Black person’s life. Despite their protestations his death was avoidable. This incident caused me to reflect on the mental state of the Black community. I’ve concluded that as a people we are collectively insane.

We allow the police to disrespect us by parking their cars on the sidewalks in our neighborhoods without thought of our children, women with strollers or our elderly. We barely blink when they leave a naked Black child in a swamp in Staten Island. We don’t ask why they have checkpoints at the 145th street Bridge in Harlem and not the 59th street Bridge. Then we are surprised that they harassed hundreds of thousand of us in their stop, question, and frisk program.

We are taken aback when Police Commissioner Ray Kelly selectively releases information from the 911 tape regarding the Coppin killing. We are not outraged that the police took Kheil’s mother down to a precinct to give a statement immediately after they killed her boy. Imagine that. They just killed her son and they took her to a precinct instead of leaving her with her family or calling in a grief counselor. My grandmother used to say if you give someone an inch, he’ll take a mile. We must stand against even the smallest slight.  

Realizing I too am insane, I’ve contemplated various cures for the malady. Should I cry? As a defense attorney I walk the halls the criminal courts of this city. I often ask myself- as I see young Black mothers with young babies, Black men with broken lives, judges who rule as if they are god, young white district attorneys who are indifferent to the people they prosecute, jurors who can’t see past their racist condition, and Black attorneys who seem inoculated against their people’s plight-can I continue in a system that does such violence to my race and psyche?

I wonder about my colleagues. Why have we not stood up for attorneys Evelyn and Michael Warren in their fight for justice? Have we forgotten that people died to give us the privilege to practice law? We have an obligation to oppose a justice system permeated by racism? There is no use crying. The milk has already been spilled.

Should I march? Marching without more is an assemblage of the most beautiful folks that god created demonstrating their fitness. We should no longer give our enemy that pleasure. At present The Writers Guild of America is on strike. The Stagehands are also on strike in New York City. They are both protesting. More important, they are also not working. This is a carrot.

Eventually the motion picture and television producers and the Broadway show producers will come to the table. They will because they are losing money. This is a stick. This City has already made proposals to defray the cost of dining in certain restaurants in the theatre district. Our marches lack a carrot or a stick. Without either the city readily issues a permit. They tell us where to march. They tell us when to march. They tell us when it is over. No! Marching without more makes my legs tired. It makes me tired. It’s just plain tired. If my goal is a workout I have a gym membership. 

Should I shout? Will shouting from the top of a roof that some of our most visible politicians and leaders are Eunuchs help? We once had leaders who were bold and worthy of respect. They represented. Some of the current ones are knee jerk mealy-mouthed apologists.

They have press conferences to outlaw words instead of pressing our cause. They are silent as the mayor dismisses the plight of our community- their people. They convene hearings to find out what they already know or worse should know, and write reports. They pacify our people with empty rhetoric as they dance for massa. They even invite massa to our most sacred observances to tell us about our history. I think I’d like to try that in a Synagogue. Negroes, please.

We must understand that neither crying, nor marching nor shouting will cure our dementia. What then is to be done? I saw a mother and father keep vigil for 50 days straight arriving at 4 a.m. in the morning and enlisting people to do it 24 hours a day. I see those parents continuing to hold vigil the 23rd of every month, and will do so until the end of the trial of the killers of her son, Sean Bell.

I see their quiet strength and steeled purpose unaffected by the cacophony of media madness, sensationalists and those motivated by money.  We can learn much from them. They have shown us that commitment means daring to stand up and say enough. We can make the city that never sleeps truly stay wake by being passively ungovernable.

We can dismiss shuffling politicians and leaders who have no solutions and forge a new path. We can affect the City’s bottom line by closing our wallets. We have both the carrot and the stick. There is much work to do and we ought to begin.

  

Mitchell is a Manhattan-based attorney. He can be reached at mylawya@aim.com


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