This poem came from frustration with the passive language most media use to report state-sanctioned murder and police brutality. They say “the death of” this person or that person, as if the person died in an unremarkable way. They speak of people who “lost their life” as if the opportunity to reclaim lost life is available. A more accurate wording would be “life was taken.” Life was stolen. Life was destroyed by someone who had no right to take a life.
Death is passive. Killing is not.
On the lynchings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breyonna Taylor and George Floyd
Death is a passive word.
There is no story attached to death.
Killing is an active word.
Someone does something:
There’s always a story attached to a killing.
Who did the killer kill?
Why did the killer target the victim?
How was the victim killed?
Will the killer be prosecuted?
Is the killer still breathing?
Why do killers kill?
People who kill inherently believe
They are judge, jury and executioner.
They are the law,
Inhabiting space above, beyond
and around societal norms.
They enjoy an extrajudicial existence.
The law as we know it
needs to be eliminated.
We need to write new laws.
We need to establish new societal norms.
Killers need to know
Murder is not something else
Because of their badge
Skin color or family connections.
Murder is an intentional act.
It is purposeful destruction of an active life.
Murderers think they have the right
To take away life.
To steal another person’s breath.
To extinguish a human being’s light.
They do not have that right.
Witnesses need to name names.
Supervisors need to hold perpetrators
Accountable for their violence, brutality
And abuse of authority.
Administrative leave is not enough.
Job termination is not enough.
Payouts to injured families is not enough.
Full accountability and prosecution
of killers is necessary.
No matter their uniform.
No matter their perceived goodness.
No matter their community.
A killer is a killer. Their victims
Don’t just die. They are killed.
Breathing is active.
Breath is sacred.
Air is life.
We are all created beings
with the same Right to Life
and unhindered breathing.
Access to air should not depend on
Assumptions, opinions, political views,
Occupation, wealth, social status,
Skin color, mood, hatred of fellow humans
or self-hatred. Access to air should
not require legislation.
Yet here we are.
There is a great lack of understanding in America,
An astonishing general ignorance across the continents,
Of an elemental natural truth:
The deeper you grind US into the ground,
The stronger OUR roots become.
One day, your tsunami of brutality
Will wash you and your generations
Out into the sea you brought US across,
While WE who are deeply rooted in the soil
Will not only still be standing,
But will be flourishing. Gloriously.
It’s psychological warfare
Our sanity means nothing
to the intentionally persistent
assassins of our humanity.
Our humanness has no value in the
confrontation of violent entitlement&
and moral disregard that assumes
murder of “others” is the
white person’s right – a privilege
awarded to hunters; a prize
for the domineering.
I cried out to Jesus, only to be
consumed by His weeping and grief.
I raged at Democracy, only realize
my own invisibleness.
I shouted out to my neighbors
but their thundering silence shamed me!
I too may be America,
but who is America?
What we’ve become is
who we’ve always been.
There’s no justice in this land.
Original sin remains
throughout the encampment –
lies, deception, greed –
lead to displacement,
abduction, countless abominations
culminating in genocide
Followed by more genocide to justify
imperial colonialist capitalism
domestically and abroad.
Murder of innocents by the millions.
Blood crying out from every inch of land
around the globe to the Atlantic coast,
across the Mississippi, through Colorado,
spilling into the Pacific
north and south
the annihilation of seeds
birthed and unborn
the enslavement of bodies and spirits
through tens of generations
Those drunk on power,
intent on control, deceived
by their own malignant characters,
they can’t hear the cries
from the blood they claimed.
They can’t see the light
of the spirits thought to be extinguished.
They can’t see how people they killed
multiply in me.
God said, “Why are you crying out to me?”
So I wrote this poem and
continue to hemorrhage.
Blood weeping into the ground.
Invisible unheard tears drying in air.
What comes next is in remembrance of US.
All those who have been annihilated.
All those who have been decimated.
All of us who have been chained and caged.
All us who have been disenfranchised.
The many who have been made invisible.
The gone are not forgotten.
They are embedded –
in hearts, minds, spirits.
They’re still standing, united here, now.
Our spirits remain strong.
Our seeds did not turn to dust.
They became roots.
In remembrance of all
the names we don’t know,
bodies we haven’t seen,
and lives that continue to matter. Àṣẹ
But two things are wanting in American civilization a keener and deeper, broader and tenderer sense of justice; a sense of humanity, which shall crystallize into the life of the nation the sentiment that justice, simple justice, is the right, not simply of the strong and powerful, but of the weakest and feeblest of all God’s children; a deeper and broader humanity, which will teach men to look upon their feeble brethren not as vermin to be crushed out, or beasts of burden to be bridled and bitten, but as the children of the living God; of that God whose may earnestly hope is in perfect wisdom and in perfect love working for the best good of all. Ethnologists may differ about the origin of the human race. Huxley may search for it in protoplasm, and Darwin send for the missing links, but there is one thing of which we may rest assured that we all come from the living God and that He is the common Father. The nation that has no reverence for man is also lacking in reverence for God and need to be instructed.
(1875) Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, from “The Great Problem to be Solved”
Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year; and David inquired of the Lord. The Lord said, “There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.” So the king called the Gibeonites and spoke to them. (Now the Gibeonites were not of the people of Israel, but of the remnant of the Amorites; although the people of Israel had sworn to spare them, Saul had tried to wipe them out in his zeal for the people of Israel and Judah.) David said to the Gibeonites, “What shall I do for you? How shall I make expiation, that you may bless the heritage of the Lord?” The Gibeonites said to him, “It is not a matter of silver or gold between us and Saul or his house; neither is it for us to put anyone to death in Israel.” He said, “What do you say that I should do for you?” They said to the king, “The man who consumed us and planned to destroy us, so that we should have no place in all the territory of Israel— let seven of his sons be handed over to us, and we will impale them before the Lord at Gibeon on the mountain of the Lord.” The king said, “I will hand them over.”
But the king spared Mephibosheth, the son of Saul’s son Jonathan, because of the oath of the Lord that was between them, between David and Jonathan son of Saul. The king took the two sons of Rizpah daughter of Aiah, whom she bore to Saul, Armoni and Mephibosheth; and the five sons of Merab daughter of Saul, whom she bore to Adriel son of Barzillai the Meholathite; he gave them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they impaled them on the mountain before the Lord. The seven of them perished together. They were put to death in the first days of harvest, at the beginning of barley harvest. Then Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth, and spread it on a rock for herself, from the beginning of harvest until rain fell on them from the heavens; she did not allow the birds of the air to come on the bodies by day, or the wild animals by night. When David was told what Rizpah daughter of Aiah, the concubine of Saul, had done, David went and took the bones of Saul and the bones of his son Jonathan from the people of Jabesh-gilead, who had stolen them from the public square of Beth-shan, where the Philistines had hung them up, on the day the Philistines killed Saul on Gilboa. He brought up from there the bones of Saul and the bones of his son Jonathan; and they gathered the bones of those who had been impaled. They buried the bones of Saul and of his son Jonathan in the land of Benjamin in Zela, in the tomb of his father Kish; they did all that the king commanded. After that, God heeded supplications for the land.
The Philistines went to war again with Israel, and David went down together with his servants. They fought against the Philistines, and David grew weary. Ishbi-benob, one of the descendants of the giants, whose spear weighed three hundred shekels of bronze, and who was fitted out with new weapons, said he would kill David. But Abishai son of Zeruiah came to his aid, and attacked the Philistine and killed him. Then David’s men swore to him, “You shall not go out with us to battle any longer, so that you do not quench the lamp of Israel.”
After this a battle took place with the Philistines, at Gob; then Sibbecai the Hushathite killed Saph, who was one of the descendants of the giants. Then there was another battle with the Philistines at Gob; and Elhanan son of Jaare-oregim, the Bethlehemite, killed Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam. There was again war at Gath, where there was a man of great size, who had six fingers on each hand, and six toes on each foot, twenty-four in number; he too was descended from the giants. When he taunted Israel, Jonathan son of David’s brother Shimei, killed him. These four were descended from the giants in Gath; they fell by the hands of David and his servants.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Alberta Jones is the civil rights pioneer almost no one knows. She was Louisville’s first black prosecutor and negotiated the first fight contract for Muhammad Ali, her neighbor. She registered thousands of African-American voters in the 1960s and paved the way for a ban on racial discrimination by local theaters and lunch counters.
One person who was astonished she had never heard of Ms. Jones was a professor named Lee Remington, who began research for a biography four years ago. The more Professor Remington learned, the more she became desperate to discover what no one has ever learned: who was responsible for Ms. Jones’s death in 1965, when, at 34, she was brutally beaten and thrown into the Ohio River to drown.
Poring over 1,600 pages of police files, Professor Remington, a lawyer and political scientist, shifted from mere history to what she calls “a quest for justice.’’ She laid out what she believed were overlooked clues to the murder in a long letter last year to the Louisville police, who agreed to reopen the case. The Justice Department’s civil rights division also stepped in.
But even with renewed interest in the case, it is unclear whether there is any real chance — 52 years after Ms. Jones died, when witnesses are deceased and evidence has vanished — of finding out who killed her and why.
“I believe her death was directly related to the work she was doing,” said Professor Remington, who teaches at Bellarmine University in Louisville. “If there was a list of people she would have stood up to and made mad, it would be five pages long.”
The Louisville Metro Police Department said this week that there have been few breakthroughs. “We still haven’t established enough probable cause to say one person or another did it,” Sgt. Nicholas Owen, the lead investigator, said.
Ms. Jones, who never married, is survived by a sister, Flora Shanklin, now 81. She believes earlier investigators ignored clues and buried evidence because of indifference to the murder of a prominent African-American, or because the killers were protected by authorities.
Ms. Shanklin recalled her sister saying she was regularly hassled by a white court officer at work. One day Ms. Jones got frustrated, Ms. Shanklin said, and “hit him with her briefcase.”
Ms. Jones’s name is absent from the annals of civil rights martyrs of the 1960s, perhaps because there is no clear evidence that her death was racially or politically motivated. Louisville, on the dividing line between North and South, largely avoided the harshest violence of the era, like church bombings and the murder of civil rights workers by white supremacists, and today does not have the immediate resonance of, say, Birmingham, Ala.
Still, the city Ms. Jones returned to in 1959 after graduating from Howard University School of Law was deeply segregated. Blacks could not enter movie theaters or restaurants in the city’s commercial heart, Fourth Street, or try on clothes at department stores.
Ms. Jones helped establish the Independent Voters Association, which registered 6,000 African-Americans. Voting as a bloc, blacks replaced the mayor of Louisville and many of the city’s aldermen in 1961. Two years later these officials outlawed racial discrimination in businesses, the first public accommodation ordinance of its kind in the South.
“We taught the Negros how to use that voting machine,” Ms. Jones told The Courier-Journal in March 1965. It was shortly after she became a city prosecutor, the first African-American and first woman of any race in that job in Louisville. “When I got back home a lot of people said, ‘You’ve got two strikes against you: You’re a woman and you’re a Negro,’” she told the newspaper. “Yeah, but I’ve still got one strike left, and I’ve seen people get home runs when all they’ve got left is one strike.’’
Ms. Jones lived in Louisville’s majority-black West End with her mother and sister, just a couple of blocks from the young Cassius Clay. In 1960, the future Muhammad Ali hired her to represent him when he turned professional. She negotiated a contract with 11 white millionaires, the famous Louisville Sponsoring Group. Protective of her client, she insisted that 15 percent of his winnings be held in trust until he turned 35, with Ms. Jones serving as a co-trustee. Today the contract hangs on the wall of the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville.
Ms. Shanklin said her sister took the boxer to buy a pink Cadillac at a downtown landmark, Brown Brothers Cadillac. “He used to come by the house and take my son and daughter to school” in the car, she recalled.
On the night Ms. Jones was murdered, Aug. 5, 1965, witnesses saw two black males drag a screaming woman into the back seat of a car like the Ford Fairlane Ms. Jones was driving, according to police records. Her body, with trauma to the head and face, was retrieved from the river near an amusement park in the West End. A large quantity of blood stained the back seat of the Fairlane, discovered nearby, which she had rented while her own car was in the shop.
Ms. Shanklin believes that whoever murdered her sister was paid by others. “I don’t know who, but she stepped on some toes,” she said.
In all the years the police have investigated Ms. Jones’s murder, reopening the case twice, they have never developed a dominant theory about suspects or a motive, according to records and Sergeant Owen, the current investigator.
One theory pursued in the 1960s was that she was killed by the Nation of Islam because its leader, Elijah Muhammad, coveted the 15 percent of Muhammad Ali’s earnings that Ms. Jones managed. A black detective working the case at the time, who was interviewed by the police in the 1980s, said that when he was pursuing this angle, his wife received a death threat.
Sergeant Owen said the Nation of Islam theory has never been substantiated. “I haven’t seen any evidence to indicate that aside from hearsay,” he said.
Almost all physical evidence from 1965 has been lost. In 2008, police got what looked to be a major break: a match on a fingerprint found on the Fairlane Ms. Jones was driving.
The print, matched by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, belonged to a Louisville man who was 17 at the time of Ms. Jones’s death. He admitted in 2008 to detectives that he used to hang out in a park with friends one block from where witnesses saw the woman dragged into the back of a car.
But with no more evidence, the prosecutor at the time, R. David Stengel, declined to bring charges and declared the case closed “for the foreseeable future.”
In an interview last week, the man linked to the car, now 70, said that he knew nothing of Ms. Jones’s murder. “I didn’t touch that lady,” he said. “I don’t know who did. That’s all I can say.” His explanation for the fingerprint was that he used to hitchhike as a teenager and must have been picked up by someone who had rented the Fairlane before Ms. Jones. The Times is withholding the man’s name because police do not consider him a suspect.
Sergeant Owen said he was at a loss for new leads. He had hoped, as he interviewed old suspects as well as people who had been overlooked in the 1960s, that time would have loosened their tongues.
“I really don’t have a theory,” he said. “It could be anybody. I was hoping for guilt to weigh on somebody and have them confess. That hasn’t happened yet.”
A spokeswoman for the Justice Department, Lauren Ehrsam, confirmed that its civil rights office was reviewing the issues raised by Professor Remington about the case. Sergeant Owen said he had heard nothing from Washington.
Next month a Louisville civic group plans to hang a giant banner with Ms. Jones’s portrait on a bank building on Muhammad Ali Boulevard. It will join other portraits downtown honoring prominent people with Louisville roots, including Diane Sawyer and Colonel Harland Sanders of fast-food fame.
Professor Remington hopes the banner will prick someone’s memory — or conscience — about what happened to Ms. Jones 52 years ago. “She spent her whole life fighting for others,’’ she said. “It’s time somebody started fighting for her.
Hear the word of the Lord, O people of Israel; for the Lord has an indictment against the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or loyalty, and no knowledge of God in the land. Swearing, lying, and murder, and stealing and adultery break out; bloodshed follows bloodshed. Therefore the land mourns, and all who live in it languish; together with the wild animals and the birds of the air, even the fish of the sea are perishing.
Yet let no one contend, and let none accuse, for with you is my contention, O priest.[a] You shall stumble by day; the prophet also shall stumble with you by night, and I will destroy your mother. My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.
The more they increased, the more they sinned against me; they changed[b] their glory into shame. They feed on the sin of my people; they are greedy for their iniquity. And it shall be like people, like priest; I will punish them for their ways, and repay them for their deeds. They shall eat, but not be satisfied; they shall play the whore, but not multiply; because they have forsaken the Lord to devote themselves to whoredom.
The Idolatry of Israel
Wine and new wine take away the understanding. My people consult a piece of wood, and their divining rod gives them oracles. For a spirit of whoredom has led them astray, and they have played the whore, forsaking their God. They sacrifice on the tops of the mountains, and make offerings upon the hills, under oak, poplar, and terebinth, because their shade is good.
Therefore your daughters play the whore, and your daughters-in-law commit adultery. I will not punish your daughters when they play the whore, nor your daughters-in-law when they commit adultery; for the men themselves go aside with whores, and sacrifice with temple prostitutes; thus a people without understanding comes to ruin.
Though you play the whore, O Israel, do not let Judah become guilty. Do not enter into Gilgal, or go up to Beth-aven, and do not swear, “As the Lord lives.” Like a stubborn heifer, Israel is stubborn; can the Lord now feed them like a lamb in a broad pasture?
Ephraim is joined to idols— let him alone. When their drinking is ended, they indulge in sexual orgies; they love lewdness more than their glory.[c] A wind has wrapped them[d] in its wings, and they shall be ashamed because of their altars.[e]
Life. Witnessing the wanton destruction of life has deeply impacted me these last few years. Every life I’ve witnessed killed on a video…every life I’ve heard was destroyed… everyone who has their right to life taken from them by someone who believed their right to kill trumped another’s right to live…all of those lives have changed me.
People are people. No howevers, buts, if onlys can change that.
Popular culture would have us believe animals are people. Some people are animals. Dogs and lions have a right to life. Some people forfeit their right to life the moment they’re born. That’s popular culture.
Popular culture is wrong.
People are people. No matter how a person is described in media, they have a humanity that cannot be denied or explained away. It is unfortunate that we have to announce, chant, insist, scream and demonstrate that Black Lives Matter with the full knowledge that doing so lengthens the noose around our necks and enlarges the target on our backs.
Encountering the hidden biases and deep-seated hatred of people I know personally has changed me. I haven’t succumbed to internalizing their venom but I have come to understand how so many others have. I don’t want to understand hatred in any form. Yet here I am, understanding with a great deal of disgust, the fuel that runs this world.
I choose to focus on life. What about a black life has impacted me most? Life. Shared humanity. The sure knowledge that murderers are killing and eliminating themselves even as they think they are “cleansing and purifying and keeping others safe.”
The world will not remain in darkness forever. It’s impossible to do so. The capability of the public to share murder and information in real time is already changing how injustices are perceived, received and handled. Life will win. Simply because sooner rather than later, everyone will recognize themselves in the abused, downtrodden, uncounted and eliminated.
On Sunday, June 26, Jesse Williams won the 2016 BET Humanitarian Award. He gave a powerful acceptance speech that is an on-point statement highlighting racial inequality in America today. It’s ironic that is was given before a room full of entertainers, one of which was posturing with pointing to the brand on his shirt right before Jesse called out the culture of selling ourselves for brands when we prayed and worked for centuries to escape being branded.
“This award is not for me. This is for the real organizers across the country: the activists, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers, the students that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do. Right? It’s kind of basic mathematics. The more we learn about who we are and how we got here, the more we will mobilize.”
“There has been no war that we have not fought and died on the front lines of. There’s no job we haven’t done. There’s no tax they haven’t levied against us. And we’ve paid all of them. But freedom is somehow always conditional here. You’re free – they keep telling us. But… she…she would have been alive had she not acted so… free. Freedom is always coming in the hereafter. But, you know what though? The hereafter is a hustle. We want it now.”
“The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That’s not our job. Stop with all that. If you have a critique for the resistance… for our resistance, then you better have an establish record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest in equal rights for Black people, then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.”
“The thing is though, just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.”