On June 18, 1996, a famed hip hop trio hailing from Long Island, New York released its fourth studio album. Trugoy, Posdnuos, and Maseo, better known as De La Soul, entitled the album Stakes Is High. On the title track, Posdnuos and Trugoy bemoaned societal ills with clever puns and powerful insights;
"Gun control means using both hands in my land."
"Investing in fantasies and not God, welcome to reality, sometimes it's hard."
"Neighborhoods are now hoods cause nobody's neighbors."
Eighteen years later, these lyrics still speak to issues confronting our nation.
In light of an alarming succession of grand juries that have failed to render an indictment against police officers using deadly force against unarmed Black men, including Staten Island native Eric Garner, another one of the song's lyrics demands our consideration:
"A meteor has more rights than my people."
Despite compelling video evidence of Garner's murder, a grand jury decided not to indict the officer responsible for his death. Undoubtedly, for Garner's family, and for all who love justice, it would appear as if extraterrestrial properties do indeed have more rights than Black men.
If nothing else, it may have more protection.
Unlike Garner, who repeatedly cried "I can't breathe!" as his life slipped away upon the pavement, meteorites are cherished as precious gems, housed safely within the corridors of museums, or securely in private collections, to protect it from undue harm. For generations, there has been great tension between the Black community and police, largely due to the undue harm the Black community has suffered at their hands. Riots in Watts in 1965 and in South Central in 1992 were fueled by injustices enacted by police, as well as within the justice system. Buildings in Ferguson were recently ablaze after a grand jury found no probable cause to indict Michael Brown's killer.
Our country is now at a critical juncture as the public's confidence in the police and in our justice system has waned, especially since both are deemed credible threats to the public's safety. Like previous generations, this present generation has already known too many unnecessary tragedies. It is a generation overrun with martyrs, and, with the advent of social media, their accompanying hashtags;
Who will be next?
Violence is far too often not just a subtext, but the text in American society. We remain the most violent industrialized nation in the world. No place in our society has remained untouched. Not suburbia. Not the halls of higher education. Not grocery stores. Not even houses of worship. However, American violence proves all the more weighty when it is unjustly enacted by those who carry a firearm and a badge, and their wrongful actions appear insulated from due process by prosecutors and grand juries.
In a statement made to the White House Tribal Nations Conference in Washington, D.C, President Barack Obama expressed that all Americans should have equal protection under the law. He also acknowledged that for far too long, and in far too many communities, this has not been their experience. Obama stated, "When anybody in this country is not being treated equally under the law, that's a problem... It is an American problem."
Indeed, this is an American problem, and it is a problem that has grown long in the tooth. It is a problem that challenges the very essence of all that America espouses itself to be. It is a problem that challenges America's standing and authority in the global community. How can America continue to call other nations to task for human rights violations when America cannot protect large segments of its own citizens from the same? How can America police the world when it cannot effectively police its own police? How can America effectively promote democracy when it appears that the same has not been fully granted to all its citizens?
Ultimately, our nation is not facing a law enforcement problem or justice problem. Our nation's greatest problem proves to be a moral one. At the very heart of this problem is the failure to value and to respect all human life as sacred. Each life, no matter how it is pigmented or financially endowed, must be fully embraced as one created in the very image of God.
It would be unimaginable for a person who views all human life as sacred and as created in the image of God to look upon the frame of a teenager and see, not a human being, but a demon. No individual who views human life as sacred and as created in the image of God would remain unmoved upon the dying as he cries aloud for breath to breathe. And no person who views human life as sacred and as created in the image of God would kill a young child upon sight.
The stakes is high!
The time is now to demilitarize the police. The time is now for greater community reviews of the police. The time is now to address the senseless loss of life that has come at the hands of far too many sworn under oath to protect and to serve. We must stand together and work tirelessly to redeem the soul of America from these brutalities.
The stakes is high, for when it comes to equal protection under the law, it is all, or nothing.