Saturday, April 26, 2008

Verdict could rekindle movement

The first thing I thought was 'I'm glad there were two black cops involved.'

I knew I shouldn't thought it, and I felt a bit remorseful. The second thought was for Sean Bell, his fiance and the respective families.

The reality is that if three white officers had been acquitted of shooting an unarmed black man 50 times, there very well could have been a riot in New York on Friday. There are enough people in that city (and across the country) remember Los Angeles in the aftermath of the Rodney King verdict in the 1990s, and the anguish they felt as a result.

If you don't know Bell's story, he was gunned down in 2007 as he sat in a car outside a Queens, N.Y., strip club following a bachelor party celebration there with some friends. Police testified that they thought one of the car's occupants had a gun and that Bell and his companions tried to speed away from the scene. A hail of bullets rained down on the vehicle killing Bell and wounding a friend. No gun was recovered. Bell was to have been married the next day. The three officers, two black and one white, were acquitted in the slaying.

I thought, while not yet summer, it's just hot enough for a riot. Think about it. Riots don't happen during the winter. And, people in this country are mad. Although the Bush Administration refuses to admit it, we're in a recession. People are losing their jobs, and their homes, and they are paying $4 for a gallon of gas, or close to it. As I put $50 into my little Volvo the other day (it wasn't full, I just saw the total, got pissed and stopped pumping) I noticed that no one at any of the pumps was happy, and drifted off into a brief assessment of the state of America.

People are mad about jobs and gas and much more. Many minorities, who are the primary residents of the neighborhoods being the most affected by the foreclosure and unemployment crises, are especially affected.

So when I heard about the acquittals in New York, I figure the situation was ripe for the picking. That the downtrodden would seize this verdict as the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. Every uprising needs a spark and this verdict seems perfect. Although it hasn't been -- yet.

Enter the Rev. Al Sharpton, who has promised to organize a campaign to shut down the city of New York. The particulars are still to be announced, but now the symbolic gauntlet has been laid down. It comes at a particularly interesting time, given the aforementioned dire economic forces at play and the opportunities waiting to be seized by the civil rights establishment.

Sharpton needs to be more relevant, and considering the lack of a strong black leader like the late Dr. Marin Luther King Jr. who he cited while announcing his intent to incite a major act of civil disobedience.

This could also be an opportunity civil rights groups like the NAACP to reconnect with and mobilize young people. I attended some its convention activities a year ago and marveled at the group's lack of engagement -- rather than outreach -- strategies. There is a major difference. The NAACP would do well to jump on the bandwagon as an ally of Sharpton's National Action Network and use this as an opportunity to get black people ready to do something, anything to engage with the organization.

In an election year when people are looking for change, when we have both a viable black candidate and a viable female candidate, this could be the chance for these challengers to engage younger disenfranchised voters. In other words, the millions of unactivated people in this country who haven’t felt engaged previously. Now, they have reasons to be involved.

Oh yeah, after getting my gas at the suburban Detroit gas station I go to (I know, but I see many of my neighbors there as well. It has the best prices) I stopped at a drug store. When I came out, my car was keyed. I'm not sure if it was because it was a Volvo or because a black man was driving it. But I do know I was mad, and wanted to do something about it.

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