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1/16/2017: Current Thoughts: Black Lives Matter, by Judy Deutsch

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Black lives have mattered minimally (when at all)  in this nation since before its inception. Black people were brought into the land that became our nation as slaves, and, when we became a nation, they were each counted as 3/5 of a person in our U.S. Constitution. They were greatly discriminated against under the Jim Crow Laws. They are being unfairly criminalized and deprived of a right to earn a decent living today. That many Black people attain great heights — even the Presidency of our nation — does not mean that the majority of Black people are not still suffering from past and present practices and laws.  They are. 

Jim Crow was the term used to designate any state law that established different rules for Blacks and Whites. Among these laws was an 1890 Louisiana law preventing  Black and White people from riding together on railroads. When Plessy v. Ferguson, a case challenging the law, reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 1896, the Court upheld the law, saying that public facilities for Blacks and Whites could be “separate but equal.” But although they were separate, they were not equal.  In 1898 the Court upheld a Mississippi law designed to deny Black men the vote.  And I believe we all know the stories of the property and “literacy” tests established to prevent Black people from voting. “Literacy” requirements frequently included, for Black people,  requests for the recitation of documents associated with U.S, history. And we all probably know that the separate schools that were established for Black children were far inferior to those established for White children. But do we know that there were laws separating workers from each other according to color, laws decreeing what streets Black people could live on, and even laws creating a curfew for Black people? I think we know that many Black men served in the armed forces in World Wars I and II, but do we know that were forced to serve in  segregated units, many of which displayed exceptional bravery and courage? It wasn’t until 1948 under the Presidency of Harry Truman that our armed forces were integrated, and the poll tax and segregated transportation between the states were abolished.  

In May 1954 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation in public school hurt minority children and must end. But the schools that Black children attend are still largely inferior. And in 1965 The Voting Rights Act prohibited racial discrimination in voting. But, in the last few years that law has been undermined by gerrymandering and the closing of polls in areas largely inhabited by Black people. 

It wan’t until 1972 that the infamous Tuskegee Study — the Alabama study that started in 1932 and denied treatment to 399 mostly Black syphilitic patients, or gave them placebos even when penicillin was known to be a cure —was halted.  By 1972, only 74 of the subjects were still alive. Twenty eight patients had died directly from syphilis, 100 died from complications related to syphilis, 40 of the patients’ wives were infected with syphilis, and 19 children were born with congenital syphilis. And this was only one of at least five unethical medical studies carried out on Black people.

Today, as Michelle Alexander so poignantly tell us in “The New Jim Crow,” the bogus “War On Drugs” has resulted in the incarceration of thousands of Black youths for actions for which their White counterparts usually get off scot free, incarceration which has interrupted and otherwise deprived thousands of Black youths of a decent and needed  education. And when released from prison these youth have suffered from extreme job discrimination — often resulting in the failure to get jobs — because of the need to cite their imprisonment up front on job applications. It is only within the last few weeks that such requirements have been removed from applications for federal jobs. This is a small start in the right direction.

I don’t need to tell you about the number of unarmed Black people who have been killed by police.  And when citing  that so many Black youths are killed by Black youths, those who do so should be reminded that the lack of quality education,  the lack of jobs  and the “War On Drugs” has led to much of this violence.

Founder Alice Gaza summed up  the philosophy behind Black Lives Matter as follows: "When we say Black Lives Matter, we are talking about the ways in which Black people are deprived of our basic human rights and dignity. It is an acknowledgement that Black poverty  and genocide is state violence. It is an acknowledgment that 1 million Black people are locked in cages in this country — one half of all people in prisons or jails —is an act of state violence. It is an acknowledgment that Black women continue to bear the burden of a relentless assault on our children and our families and that assault is an act of state violence... “

It is well past time that we lived up to the words in the Preamble to the United States Constitution that say that  our Constitution was established to establish justice. We can do so, in large part,  by acting as though, and seeing that our laws act as though Black Lives Matter.


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