By James Clingman
The movie we are watching in Baltimore is a re-run and a sequel. The price of admission has always been too high, but we continue to pay the exorbitant price, anyway. As the opening line in the old TV show, “Dragnet,” proclaimed, “The story you are about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.” In today’s society, that second line should say, “The names have been changed to protect the ‘guilty.’”
My 11-year-old nephew, since the age of five or six, has been reciting, verbatim, the words from his favorite movies. He knows the directors, the release dates, and the bios of the stars in those movies. He has seen his favorite movies many times over. He reminds me of Black people, as we watch the same movie over and over, except we do not remember the vital information contained in the movie, and we even forget who the main characters were and the roles they played.
The latest movie being run in Baltimore is a sequel to the ones we watched in Ferguson, Mo. and Staten Island, N.Y. It is a rerun of what we saw in Los Angeles, Cleveland, and North Charleston, S.C. How many times are we going to pay the price of admission to see the same movie without memorizing the lines and learning from them? How many times must we go through the same experience before we change our response to it?
Some very interesting and pitiful responses (reviews) have come from some of the “leaders” in Baltimore in the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s death. We knew what the politicians’ reviews would be; they are always true to form. But the older folks, who decry the violence as “insulting” and “disrespectful” to Freddie’s family, are even more disingenuous. They seem to have forgotten about 1968 when their generation, and maybe even some of them, burned down buildings and looted all across this nation, in the aftermath of MLK’s assassination. Were their actions deemed insulting and disrespectful to King’s family? If so, did that stop them?
The self-righteousness I hear from those in my generation about the youth who are doing the same thing they did in the 1960s is unfortunate. Where were they before the looting and burning started in Baltimore? Were they busy teaching the youth that what took place in the 1960s was detrimental to their neighborhoods, as they now like to say to TV news reporters? If they have not, until now, passed on those lessons to younger folks, their words ring hollow today.
Some of the sanctimonious comments being made by my generation very strongly suggest that even though we have seen this movie many times, we are content to watch it again without having shared its lessons. Is it because we are ashamed of ourselves now? Do we think we are better than our youth today? We should be bringing the generations together rather than separating them and acting like we have not been where they are.
Amos Wilson said, “The violently oppressed react violently to their oppression.” He also said, “Just as power corrupts, powerlessness also corrupts.” This is the main plot of our 21st century version of the 1968 movie. Same theme, different characters. Why do we only react to what young people do, rather than work with them every day by giving them alternatives to prevent their negative behaviors? It irks me to see our grown men saying, “They need jobs.” Well, create some jobs to give them. It’s so sad to hear our adults crying out, “They need education.” Well, provide them with education. Our youth see many of us as weak and impotent when it comes to protecting them.
We have the resources to provide everything we say our youth need. What must they think of our words, our prayer sessions, our news conferences, our political speeches, and our tepid efforts now to stop and correct their behavior, when we have not used our resources to take care of them? Our answer is to run to those who don’t care about them and beg for jobs, food, education, and everything else they need.
Frederick Douglass’ words are clear regarding power, but as I always add, a demand not backed-up by power will not come to fruition; and the real power in this country is the almighty dollar. Just look at what happened in Indianapolis when the LGBT folks were upset. They did not burn anything down or throw one brick, because they know that dollars rule the day. Their threats to withdraw their dollars were immediately addressed by the politicians.
People whose families own storefront businesses are very unlikely to throw bricks through the windows and burn them down. Sgt. Joe Friday had another saying in Dragnet: “Just the facts ma’am, just the facts.”
Jim Clingman, founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce, is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people. He can be reached through his website, blackonomics.com. He is the author of Black Dollars Matter: Teach Your Dollars How to Make More Sense, which is available through his website; professionalpublishinghouse.com and Amazon Kindle eBooks.