It is impossible to struggle for civil rights, equal rights for blacks, without including whites. Because equal rights, fair play, justice, are all like the air: we all have it, or none of us has it. That is the truth of it. Maya Angelo
This past weekend marked the 50th anniversary of what has come to be known as the ‘Bloody Sunday’ civil rights march. The 54 mile march from Selma Alabama to the state capital in Montgomery had been organized as a demonstration for African American voting rights and in honor of Jimmie Lee Jackson, a young black man who had been shot to death by a state trooper three weeks earlier while trying to protect his mother at a civil rights demonstration. The organized demonstration of approximately 600 mostly African American protesters began peacefully enough but about a mile into the march, after crossing over the Alabama River the group was met by a line of heavily armed state troopers, deputies and other police officers who ordered the peaceful demonstrators to turn around.
Within moments of the initial confrontation police fired tear gas canisters into the crowd. As the crowd broke up and tried to make their way back across the river towards Selma, the officers made their move. A wave of police, some mounted on horseback, armed with batons or lengths of rubber hose laced with spikes, swept through the crowd knocking protesters to the ground and beating them. In less than 30 minutes not a single African American could be seen walking the streets of Selma. More than 50 protesters required medical treatment and seventeen were seriously injured and required hospitalization.
Then Governor of Alabama George Wallace was quite satisfied with the police action. Just the day before he had publicly denounced the march and stated “There will be no march between Selma and Montgomery.” He even went so far as to order the head of the Alabama Highway Patrol to “use whatever measures are necessary to prevent a march.” Unfortunately for Wallace and the state of Alabama their joy was short lived. The entire incident had been televised. Images of policemen gone wild, madly swinging down on bloodied, injured peaceful protesters were broadcast worldwide. The images went viral, or as viral as they could back in 1965. Those brave protesters and the horrific images of the beatings managed to sway support for the Black American cause. Later that year Congress approved the Voting Rights Act, a major turning point for the Civil Rights Movement.
This weekend tens of thousands flocked to the same Selma Bridge to commemorate “Bloody Sunday.” This time around, in sharp contrast to what occurred 50 years ago, the 70,000 plus participants were jovial and celebratory. Even some of the original participants took part in the ceremony, They sang, laughed and cheered as they crossed the bridge, all races, creeds and colors, gathered together to honor the pioneers of the American Civil Rights Movement.
How far have we actually come since that “Bloody Sunday” fifty years ago. The Civil Rights Movement is ongoing. We’ve made some major gains including the election of the nation’s first black president. Yes significant progress has been made but there is still much unfinished business when it comes to civil rights. Racism remains a problem and tension still runs high. And for reason I don’t quite understand hostility between black Americans and law enforcement is alive and well from coast to coast. That “us” versus “them” mentality thrives in the black community. Blacks are still being stereotyped and targeted or so they believe and the rash of police shootings of young, in most cases, unarmed black men seems to make their case for them.
As I’ve said many times before I don’t blame the police for these shootings. I’m sure that in the majority of the cases the officers are truly in fear of their lives and the shootings justified. Certainly statistics may show that young black men are most often shot by law enforcement, but if you look at all the figures you find that other nationalities are targeted as well, as are the homeless and mentally unstable. Blacks just happen to be at the top of the list. I don’t believe police are racists. I believe there are racist policemen out there but the vast majority of people in law enforcement are not racist and are out there doing the best job they can and deserve our support and admiration.Everyday these individuals put their lives on the line for you and I, they are the good guys, one bad apple doesn’t spoil the whole bunch.
Even now with the rash of unarmed shootings law enforcement agencies across the nation are frantically searching for a less than lethal weapon they can use in their fight against crime, something that can be used in a split second that will render a suspect helpless. I always thought it would be cool if police officers were armed with Star Trek laser phasers that could be set to stun or kill. A weapon that would immobilize the suspect immediately, rendering him helpless. It would help, but even if such a weapon were readily available and they became standard police issue, there would still be questionable shootings. I’d bet on it.
So as we look back on the events of 50 years ago and reflect on how far we’ve come since ‘Bloody Sunday” let’s break away from the congratulatory back patting, and take the time to look forward and see how much still needs to be accomplished and what can be done to get it done. Yeah, we’ve come a long way baby but we still have a long, long way to go.
Just a Thought…