“Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.” — Assata Shakur, Assata: An Autobiography
The Black past teaches us that periods of racial progress in America, whether real or perceived, are followed by periods of racial retrenchment.
• The Reconstruction Era (1865-1877) resulted in the first nadir, one of the worst periods of racism in the nation’s history.
• The Civil Rights Movement (1954-1968) was followed by the Nixon administration’s emphasis on law and order.
• The historic election of Barack Obama as the nation’s first Black president, culminating in the resurgence of White Nationalist Hate Groups , a surge in white vigilantism, and extrajudicial killings of African Americans at a rate that rivals the first nadir.
Historically, the response to these issues have promoted a Black political activism of love, compassion, and long-suffering as the answer to African American’s social, political and economic quagmire in America, in which Black political agitation is undergirded by the largesse of benevolent liberal whites who are sympathetic to their suffering.
This narrative, while wholly inaccurate, is prevalent among civil rights nostalgics, and has been revisited amid the nationwide protest in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.
Numerous political pundits, politicians and media personalities — Obama and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice included — have advocated for “courageous conversations,” and the art of moral persuasion as a solution to eradicating racism in America.
In an effort to make this nation as good as its promise by tapping into the moral conscience of whites, in a belief that if they understood the vicissitudes of African American life, culture and history then, “a come to Jesus moment” will ensue and remove racism from the fabric of American society.
Such an approach, while politically immature, has brought about commendable symbolic gains, as Confederate statues are being removed, considerations are being made regarding military installations being renamed, and new legislation has been drafted to address police violence via the Justice in Policing Act of 2020 that will prohibit the issuance of no-knock warrants.
However, these developments are not exhaustive in addressing the myriad of structural barriers that inhibit Black progress in America, as they do not indemnify a constituency living under a system of social control since 1619.
A system that has included 244 years of chattel enslavement, generations of sharecropping and Black codes, political disenfranchisement, economic exploitation, social degradation and Jim Crowism that has culminated with the New Jim Crow. These social control systems have been in place not due to a lack of courageous conversations or a lack of understanding of the vagaries of African American life in America, but because racism is highly adaptable.
Therefore, change must come not in an attempt to win the hearts and minds of the American people, but through legislation that finally affords African Americans equal protection under the law.
Such legislation should come via a presidential executive order known as (Equal Protection in Policing) to provide federal oversight and accountability to law enforcement in America.
This executive order will mandate that all fatal officer-involved shootings and assaults of unarmed civilians are investigated and prosecuted at the federal level with a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years to life upon conviction.
Such an executive order would finally provide African Americans the equal protection guaranteed to them via the 14th amendment of the Constitution.
To bring such a request to fruition, I have contacted my local state representative, and Ohio’s governor imploring them to put pressure on President Trump, and the presumptive Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, to write such an order into law.
I ask all who desire equal protection under the law to do the same.
Bakari K. Lumumba is co-founder of The Coalition of African Unity, a Dayton-based nonprofit. He is an Ohio State University’s higher education student affairs doctoral student and an adjunct professor at Columbus State Community College.