Lift every voice and sing,
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list’ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
No way James Weldon Johnson knew that when he penned “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as a poem in 1899 for President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, that it could become 2020’s vade mecum. Time out for stumbling over the words.
At the murder of George Floyd, another in a long line of men and women killed by police for minor infractions, voices all around the world have been rising as “high as the list’ning skies.”
Crowds of all races, ages and genders marched in Minneapolis, ground zero where a white police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, while he cried “I can’t breathe.” They marched in Greensboro, Raleigh and even Weaverville, in the western part of the state. A USA Today map, with blue dots illustrating the places were protests have occurred, looks like somebody with measles covering his body from head to toe — Alaska to Hawaii, California to Florida and everywhere in between.
They defied bans against large crowds because of COVID-19 in Nantes, France, holding signs, one saying “Ce n’est pas blancs vs noirs c’est TT le monde vs le racisme,” translated “It’s not black vs white, this is the world vs racism.”
They kneeled in Germany and cried “Black Lives Matter.” Large crowds of protesters in England ripped down the statue of a 17th century slaveholder and tossed him in the river. Spain, Australia, Sweden, Japan, Mexico and even in Canada where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, with his own black-face baggage, took a knee were the locations where the sounds of no more racism “resounded as loud as the rolling seas.”
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
The songs they are singing may have different words, but all are asking that we dismantle racism and curb police brutality. The latter, they harmonize, can be done by defunding the police department. I admit when I first heard “defund” the police, I couldn’t envision a community where there is no peacekeeping authority. How ironic that the peacekeepers are at the center of the chaos. Then I realized that we’ve been in the business of defunding schools, from kindergarten to college, for the past decade.
From charter schools that siphon money from public schools, to failures to keep buildings safe, up-to-code and capable of handling today’s technology, keepers of the purse strings are providing fewer and fewer dollars. The rationale, they say, is to rid the school systems of fat while at the same time holding them accountable to produce graduates capable of functioning in today’s global world.
If the schools can do it, why not the police?
What we have now is broken. Even under the glare of cameras everywhere, police continue their reckless, juvenile behavior. Knocking a senior to the ground and leaving him bleeding. Lounging for hours in the office of a U.S. representative while the city is in the thick of a protest. Arresting black reporters for doing their jobs.
It’s time for an overhaul. Bring in the external reviewers to examine the police department’s policies and procedures. Remove the cloak that allows officers with multiple infractions to remain gun-toting police. Break the blue wall of silence so the “good” officers can police each other without fear of reprisal. And stop the use to barbaric practices, chokeholds and hogtying, that are potentially lethal.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand, …
A fight for justice can’t be won overnight. It’s a fight that has been waged over 400 years and while progress has been made, much remains undone. Let not our feet “stray” or become “drunk with the wine of the world” and move on.
Is this time different, people keep asking? Normally, I’d say no. But when Michael Jordan — who refused to endorse Democrat Harvey Gantt in his Senate race against notorious racist Jesse Helms, because “Republicans buy sneakers, too” — gives $100 million (over 10 years) to Black Lives Matter. When NASCAR bans the Confederate battle flag and when it’s dernier cri for companies and corporations to release statements validating their support of Black Lives Matter, it could be different.
But we must continue to stand and require that their statements become standards. Living wages for all. Salary parity for men and women doing similar jobs. Elimination of policies and practices that range from locking up African American hair care products to creating board rooms with no women or African Americans.
We stand for police to be held accountable. We stand for schools that teach and reach all students. We stand for elected officials to represent the will of the people and not small, well-funded contingents with selfish agendas.
We stand for affordable, quality housing. We stand for health care that treats people regardless of ability to pay, color of skin or gender. We stand for safe drinking water and clean air. We stand for voting rights.
We stand for all that this country says it is — a place with liberty and justice for all.