By Ernesto Saavedra
Black Life Is Not Valued in America
On Aug. 9, in Ferguson, Mo., Michael Brown was murdered by Officer Darren Wilson. Lying face down in the middle of the street, some say for four hours; blood running away from his body. I could imagine the scene was reminiscent of a lynching, with the body put out on display for all to see. A disgusting celebration, but also a warning of sorts. Ten days later, another young Black man, Kajieme Powell, 25, was also killed in Missouri. Another sign to young Black and Brown men that the police are not there to serve and protect them.
“Black life is not valued in America,” UC Berkeley Professor John A. Powell said in an interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now about the killing of Brown. “We avoid the hard issue. We avoid the structure. We avoid the system. We avoid the continued neglect of poor people of color all across the country,” says Powell.
Post-Traumatic Stress Living in the United States
Jamilah King, in her short piece, “The PTSD Crisis That’s Plaguing America’s Poorest Neighborhoods,” cites a study by ProPublica highlighting that “about 8 percent of Americans suffer from PTSD at some point in their lives. But the rates appear to be much higher in communities—such as poor, largely African-American pockets of Detroit, Atlanta, Chicago and Philadelphia—where high rates of violent crime have persisted despite a national decline.”
King also cites Dr. Kerry Ressler, a leading researcher for ProPublica, “The rates of PTSD we see are as high or higher than Iraq, Afghanistan or Vietnam veterans,” Ressler said. “We have a whole population who is traumatized.”
Lack of freedom to move freely without being harassed by the police on top of everything else poor people of color have to deal with can be stressful, to put it lightly. The same police oppression and brutality can be found here in Fresno and the Central Valley.
Fresno Police Department: Trigger Happy
In 2009, Ali Winston wrote an article titled “Fresno Cops Involved in Repeat Shootings Still on Duty” (www.colorlines.com). Winston writes that the Fresno Police Department (FPD) has a pattern of violence and shootings. So much so that at the time the article was written, the number of officers involved in repeat shootings still on duty was 27. Most of the people officers shot were people of color and in need of mental health services.
“In 1985 Raul Rangel, Jr., an 18-year-old junior college student, was carrying a gun and threatening suicide in his mother’s home. She called the police for help, and several officers arrived; in the end, Rangel was shot at dozens of times and killed. One of those officers, Jerry Dyer, then a street cop, is now Fresno’s Chief of Police; another, [former] SWAT team member Michael Palomino, went on to be involved in several more shootings over the course of his career, three during the period between 2002 and 2009 covered by the Public Records Act request,” writes Ali.
The Community’s Response
This summer, family, friends and community activists have been organizing and protesting the recent shootings of 27-year-old Miguel Figueroa (May) and 22 year old Miguel Moreno Torrez (June) since June. The FPD did not need to kill these men. With all the money the FPD gets, and the training, there are a number of nonlethal methods to subdue someone. But, I guess the FPD save and take lives at their own discretion. Members of the community are in the process of meeting with Chief Jerry Dyer.
In solidarity with Ferguson, on Aug. 17, Faith in Community organized a somber gathering at Fresno City College; symbolic because if Brown were alive today, he’d be starting school now.
On Aug. 19, another demonstration organized by the National Network in Action occurred. One of the speakers called Brown’s murder a “continuation of genocide against Black, Brown and other oppressed people.” Our young Black and Brown men are either shot down or locked up, taking them away from the family unit. If they didn’t have children yet, they probably won’t because they can’t in a grave or behind bars.
Oct. 22 is the National Day Against Police Brutality. People around the nation will condemn police brutality and mourn its victims. In Fresno, this action will take place at Eaton Plaza (2400 Fresno St.) at 5:30 p.m.
Time to Reflect and Act
In my observation of all this, my heart feels really heavy. Especially how, once again, the people uprising in Ferguson are told to “calm down” and “be nonviolent.” What about the police and the National Guard? Where’s the call to tell them to “calm down” and “be nonviolent”?
Angela Davis put it best when interviewed by a Swedish reporter while she was on trial for “aggravated kidnapping and first degree murder.” The reporter asked her about violence:
Because of the way this society is organized. Because of the violence that exists on the surface everywhere. You have to expect that there are going to be such explosions. If you’re a Black person and lived in the Black community all your life and walk down the street every day and see white police surrounding you…when you live under a situation like that constantly and you ask me whether I approve of violence…that doesn’t make sense to me at all….what that tells me is that the person asking that question has no idea what Black people have gone through. What Black people have experienced in this country since the time when the first Black person was kidnapped from the shores of Africa.
My heart goes out to all victims of police brutality and harassment and your families. Put your fists up when you see police.
Ernesto Saavedra is the editor of the Community Alliance. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.