Thursday, July 07, 2016

Ingrained Racism in Baton Rouge

This has been a sad few days, starting with yesterday lunchtime when I started to see the coverage of the police shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The videos were horrible, it was obvious, to me at least, that shooting a man at point blank range that you already have pinned to the ground is nothing short of cold-blooded murder.

I've been increasingly upset by the police shootings in our country, both of unarmed young black men and others. I don't have an answer to how to stop that, but every single time I hear of another person dying at the hands of an overzealous or possibly frightened police officer I cry. No one should have to fear law enforcement, but now many of us do.

My own fear of being shot and killed for no reason by law enforcement started with the lady that sang next to me on our church's worship team, Patricia Cook, was gunned down in downtown Culpeper. Her crime? She was trespassing at a local Catholic school and refused to show her drivers license to the officer called out to investigate. He shot her at point blank range in the face before shooting her five times in the back as she drove away. Shooting her from school grounds, a school filled with children, shooting towards a heavily trafficked major road intersection a block away. It's a mercy that others weren't injured.

For his crimes that officer received a sentence of 36 months, served a small portion of it and was released. The last I heard he was trying to get back on a force somewhere. The last thing he needs is a badge and a gun.

So Pat wasn't black, she was a white middle aged middle class lady of 54, one of the most meek and mild people I've met, the last one to be considered a threat. If it can happen to Pat then none of us are safe. We ALL could be executed by cop for something as minor as refusing to show a drivers license. We're all at risk.

The Baton Rouge shooting at a convenience store on North Foster Dr. just reinforces that horrible reality to me once again. My father used to live near the shooting scene many years before. I know exactly where this occurred. I've stopped at that particular store on my way to lay flowers on my father's grave in nearby Roselawn Cemetary. It was on the way.

Racism flows heavily through the city of Baton Rouge, just like some sort of black spiritual ick version of the Mississippi River. Is it possible to hate a place you love at the same time.

I spent a long spate of years, from 1973 to 1986, living in Baton Rouge, first in South Baton Rouge and later in the downtown area before finally settling off Old Hammond Highway near Tara subdivision. I know Baton Rouge intimately, whether I like it or not. I attended Louisiana State University of Baton Rouge, and married the son of two LSU professors. We left Baton Rouge to move to Europe for a number of years before settling here in Virginia near Washington D.C. for over twenty years now.

I've never looked back and wanted to return to live in Baton Rouge. At one point in our time here in Virginia Jim was offered a position with the Dept. of Labor in Baton Rouge. We never really considered it. It wasn't only because the weather is so unGodly hot all the time in South Louisiana either. There were other reasons.

One of the biggest is that racism exists in a particularly vile entrenchment, hand in hand with white privileged and entitlement. I grew up among that stomach-turning level of racism and I always hated it. Hated. It.

My father spewed about blacks and the evils of race mixing as I was a kid, but I could not make that leap to hating black people because there were wonderful people in my life that were black, that cared for me, loved me, took care of me. I could not hate those that had shown me love, some of the most unconditional early love of my life.

As I grew I just knew that my father and others were wrong on the matters of race. Blacks were no different than whites. It was a false dichotomy.  I grew up in the sixties amid Civil Rights, listening to my father complain about 'uppity Negros'. When Martin Luther King was murdered I remember I didn't go to school for a few days and no one in our household went to work. There was serious fear of race riots.

And race riots did touch Baton Rouge, just not when Martin Luther King was murdered, later in 1972. It happened during a Black Muslims rally downtown and while the article I linked to does not mention it I believe a older white newsman named Carlton Cremeans was seriously injured during the rally and lingered either with a brain injury or in a vegetative state for quite some time. Perhaps I'm thinking of another newsman but that is the name my brain keeps fishing up.

Racism has always been a huge problem in Baton Rouge, just under the surface. I remember in the 1970s when blacks started moving into some of the 'white' areas and how many ugly things were said. Later in the 70s when the federal government ordered school integration and started bussing students hither and yon the white population made their displeasure known at having to share schools with the black population. Anyone would could beg, borrow or steal the money needed for private school enrolled their children in one of the many Catholic schools and other private schools.

This was ironic because many of the Catholic schools had been integrated for some time with no fuss.

By the time I left Baton Rouge for greener pastures in Europe I'd seen pretty much the full spectrum of racism in the state capital, right down to the slums of Scotlandville to the fact that mostly service industry and menial jobs were the only ones open to African Americans. I saw how some of my coworkers were treated by management, and the toll crack cocaine took on a hopeless defeated community.

You'd forget how it was back in Baton Rouge during those times when we rarely went home more than every few years. But not long after arriving you'd hear or witness some white person behaving poorly towards a black. Every time this happened I was shocked. While there seems to be some racism just about everywhere in this world it wasn't so openly practiced.

Through the years as I've spoken with my many family members living in Baton Rouge and New Orleans and every community between the two I'd heard racist speech for years, proclamations of 'you know how those blacks are' and I'd gloss over it, not confronting the casual racist, just shrugging and thinking that this would eventually die off.

That press conference yesterday showed me it's not lessened, it's increased. What I observed was the black mayor and a black minister being trotted out to show how not racist the police dept. supposedly is. Followed by the chief of police pretty much ordering people to sit down and shut up, ordering them not to riot or protest. Made me sick to my stomach. As usual don't deal with the issues.

Adding in a few more shooting deaths of innocent African American males since the death of Sterling in a short few hours has been horrific. This is a holocaust of people and not how a rational just society operates. 

Today when I got up and saw that many of my South Louisiana friends and family weren't one bit sorry about what happened, seeing some very racist statements being bandied about, things like 'That n*gger got what was coming to him' and 'they saved the taxpayers a trial by executing that criminal' my heart broke anew. I cannot comprehend being so unfeeling and callous towards living human beings who are suffering.

I ended up deleting a few friends and putting a number of relatives on unfollow this morning and I'm going to be staying off Facebook for a few days.

Part of me is just so angry that I would rejoice to see that horrible fucking city burned to the ground in a riot. But then again the only ones that get hurt from a riot that destroys towns are the members of the poorest parts of the community, which in Baton Rouge means the blacks.

Like I said before, I don't know what the answer is to end all these hateful police shootings of unarmed folks on either side of the color line and, yes, the blacks are getting killed at disproportionate rates. But I do know one thing. If this is to end we cannot sit neutral on the sidelines any longer. Whites are going to have to stand up and join with their black fellow citizens and insist that enough is enough, that this must end. We're all at risk.

1 comment:

Tove Ford said...

The newsman injured during the Black Muslim rally was Bob Johnson, anchorman at WBRZ Channel 9. He was struck by a thrown brick and then beaten by a mob. He spent the rest of his life in a nursing home in a vegetative state and died in 2011.