The murder of black men and women by law enforcement is a fact, not a story. I have witnessed this tragedy multiple times in my life, and I have always had one question: Why would an experienced law enforcement officer risk his career and time in prison by taking action he knows is criminal and immoral? My question was answered recently when I heard for the first time about “qualified immunity.”
In 1967 the Supreme upheld a policy which would protect both law enforcement and other authorities involved in the legal system from frivolous lawsuits. No action could be taken unless it directly violated rules and procedures. This, along with added protections negotiated into contracts between city and state leaders and law enforcement union representatives gave street cops virtual invincibility.
The biggest change for qualified immunity occurred with the invention of cellular phones. In just years nearly every man, woman, and many children had cameras which could record both stills and video records. Over the last couple of decades dozens of innocent black men and women who lost their lives at the hands of law enforcement have been vindicated by visual evidence. However, punishment was rare, and when their was any justice it was minimal.
In 2013 after George Zimmerman killed a young black man, Trayvon Martin, in February of 2012, a hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter caught the attention of black Americans all across the nation. A movement had begun.
Qualified immunity is being addressed by congress today. Whether the policy is repealed or modified, there will be change. Black Lives Matter has become a force as demonstrated by protests across America and around the world; and they continue to grow. Some organizers believe that they will last throughout the November election.
After 244 years of being ignored by their elected officials, black Americans are no longer willing to wait for action which has never come.
A final note: you are probably wondering why a 74-year-old white man is so interested in the future of black America. The only honest answer is ‘life experience.’
When I was a very young man, growing up in Los Angeles, I was naive. I can only blame a sheltered young life for not being aware of what was happening in my city. That all changed in 1962 when I left Catholic high school to attend Venice High School.
Venice High was populated by about 3,300 young men and women. We were a diverse group of blacks, whites, Asian Americans, Hispanics, Christians and Jews. This was to be my education.
When I learned about the differences in my community and those in black communities, my first reaction was disbelief. It soon became a mixture of sadness and anger.
At that time I was not aware of the term, ‘two Americas.’ When I learned it was true, I was appalled. How could the color of a man or woman’s skin make them different? I attended classes with a diverse group of students. I liked and disliked each of them but none of my feelings were based on race, creed, or color.
For me, this was America; the perfect example of what I had learned in Civics classes as we dissected the Constitution.
What I am saying is that I never understood racism, or prejudice in any form. Distrust or even hatred for no reason is pure ignorance. I guess I was raised well, and I am thankful. I’ve never had to claim that I had ‘black friends,’ I just had ‘friends;’ they were not defined by the color of their skin, their religion, or their nation of origin. I continue to believe that this is the ultimate dream of our founding fathers.
I am no saint, I made many mistakes in my life. But I demand a few qualities from my friends and even my family. Each of them must use their intellect and deny emotional baggage. Human life is more important than money or possessions. The ‘golden rule,’ doing the right thing, is the basis for living a good and moral life. And, finally, respect is earned, not given.
I believe these attributes should decide the worth of any man or woman, not their skin color, race, or creed. This is my America.
Donald Trump has no value as a human being. The only good that will ever happen from his illegitimate presidency is that our nation will change and begin to move forward into the 21st century. Real Americans will never allow another disaster like Donald John Trump.
Op-ed by James Turnage
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