by Karima Amin
With the beginning of a new year, I am tempted to do what so many writers have done recently, that is to ruminate on what has happened to so many Black men (and a few women and children), murdered by law enforcement in recent months. Their words have been illuminating and shocking and frequently well-reasoned but only a few have offered solutions that might help to change the current status of race relations, as they impact and are impacted by systems that frame our daily lives. The criminal justice system, the education system, the economic system are only three that operate to maintain a society of haves and have-nots. All too frequently the have-nots are African Americans who have always had to fight against injustice in America.
Recent articles, like so many over the years before them, have talked about this history of injustice and the struggles we have waged against slavery, discrimination, segregation, desegregation, affirmative action and the relentless racism that denies our humanity. Recent murders, perpetrated by law enforcement, are modern-day examples of the lynchings that have taken place in this country for hundreds of years. Millions of Black lives have been lost because those in power put profits above people.
Historians have documented over 500 incidents of African insurrections on board slave ships (1650–1860). In the struggle to be free, we have always resisted the inhumanity that brought us to the Western Hemisphere. When we rebelled against slavery in the 1800’s (see Nat Turner, Denmark, Vesey, Gabriel Prosser), we were saying, “Black lives matter.” When we rebelled against the Black Codes, after slavery, and built strong, self-sufficient Black communities (see Tulsa, OK and Rosewood, FL), we were saying, “Black lives matter.” When the Black Panther Party and the Deacons for Defense and Justice emerged in the 1960’s, we were saying. “Black lives matter.” The Black Power Movement and the Civil Rights Movement both proclaimed, “Black lives matter!” While we understand that all lives matter, the history of the African in America is special. In spite of the gains we have made, racism keeps holding us back and pushing us back, often erasing our contributions and relegating our lives to that of second-class citizens. Today is simply a repeat of yesterday when we have to say again, “Black lives matter.”
A decade has passed since John V. Elmore wrote Fighting for Your Life: The African-American Justice Survival Guide. Specifically written for African Americans, this book clearly explains how to navigate the criminal justice system and survive “the long arm of the law.” Mr. Elmore is a well-respected attorney, practicing for more than 25 years with offices in Buffalo and Niagara Falls, NY. Often recognized for his professional, civic, and philanthropic work, he is a lawyer with a special concern for social issues affecting African Americans, especially the youth. He has been cited as a Citizen of the Year by the Buffalo News; a Phenomenal Father by Ebony Magazine; a Civil Rights Champion by the N. A. A. C. P.; and a Good Neighbor by Parents Magazine. His book is as timely now as it was in 2004 when it was first published. Our relationship with law enforcement has always been tenuous. When we consider solutions for making relationships better, education is the key. The information that Mr. Elmore brings to the table is life-saving and it ties in with Prisoners Are People Too’s push for establishing a city-wide recognition and acceptance of restorative practices with restorative justice hubs throughout Buffalo.
Mr. Elmore will be our guest speaker at the next monthly meeting of Prisoners Are People Too. Join us on Monday, January 26 at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo at 7:00-9:00pm. Adults are encouraged to bring a youth. A few copies of Fighting for Your Life will be on hand.
“God has not called us to see through each other, but to see each other through.” (Anonymous)