“I Can’t Breathe.”

Text and Photo by K. Cecchini

Justice cannot breathe in our nation, either, while our African-American brothers -and sisters- disproportionately suffer at the hands of our justice system. Whether the system puts a tag on their toe or cuffs on their hands, African-Americans -and other people of color- are prey to the inherent theme in our public institutions; “if you’re a hammer, everything is a nail.” (Glenn E. Martin)

On NPR’s Morning Edition, Brooklyn Borough president, Eric Adams spoke with host Steve Inskeep regarding the Eric Garner case,

“When we police in America, we leave the station house with this symbolic toolbox we can use based on the circumstances that we respond to. In many communities of color, the only tool we use is the hammer.” The former police officer went on to identify a number of nonlethal tools and tactics the police could have used to work with Eric Garner, “But in communities of color, the officers don’t use those tools of conflict resolution. They quickly go from zero to 100 in police action.”

Mr. Adams expanded on this point later in the interview, he does want police officers to respond to calls of service, however, they need to be as prudent with their approaches in working with citizens of color as they are with Caucasians,

“But when they come, I want them to use the force that’s equal to the crime that is being reported, not for them to come with a one-size-fit-all enforcement in communities of color. And that’s where we’re going wrong, and that is what we have to acknowledge.”

A Sustained Movement

America’s attention is on these issues now, but how do we build a sustainable –and effective– movement?

I spoke with Glen E. Martin about his organization, JustLeadershipUSA, last week and I asked him for his perspective on the mobilization for Michael Brown and Eric Gardner’s respective deaths. Although Glenn feels “motivated and energized” that 50,000 New Yorkers marched to express indignation for these young men and he was honored to march in the front line with Gardner’s family, he is concerned that the movement will not be sustained. In his mind, it is great to get 50,000 liberal New Yorkers in the streets, however, it is “not shocking” to get 50,000 liberal New Yorkers in the street.

To exemplify his uncertainty, Glenn brought up the 99% movement that spread around the globe, and, as if to illustrate his point, neither of us could recall the action’s name while we were on the phone (later, my husband remembered it was called Occupy Wall Street). Most notably, though, is that the rallying cry for our economic systems to undergo dramatic transformations has died out; “let’s be honest,” Glenn said, “Wall Street is back to what Wall Street does”.

So, how do we ensure our Justice System does not just go back to what our Justice System does? Glenn believes that a potent campaign requires a “slow, methodical, bipartisan movement” -rather than a quick, emotional rebuke- akin to the one he and his team are building at JustLeadershipUSA. In the upcoming week, I will share more on my follow up interview with Mr. Martin on the momentum they are gaining with the methodical building of his organization and their work for justice and #Halfby2030.

A Nonviolent Movement

“Any use of the names of Eric Garner and Michael Brown in connection with any violence or killing of police, is reprehensible and against the pursuit of justice in both cases,”

Reverend Al Sharpton spoke in reaction to the man who sought to put “wings on pigs;” in a warped retaliation for Eric Gardner and Michael Brown, 28 year old Ismaaiyl Brinsley, shot two NYPD officers who he apparently targeted at random for their uniform before turning his gun on himself. As the Reverend, and every advocate for justice believes, misguided folks like Brinsley are not only framing themselves as enemies of the police but also as enemies “…to the pursuit of justice for Eric Garner and Michael Brown.”

A Living Movement

Meanwhile, I hope we can summon enough breath among all of our citizens to keep a nonviolent discourse alive.

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