The night of Nov. 24, 2014 was an eerie déjà vu … almost a mirror image of the night of July 13, 2013. For those not in the know, those are the dates the verdicts the Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin cases were respectively announced. Both nights I reluctantly sat in front of the television with my mother. Both nights, against my better judgment, I kept a small glimmer of hope that the jurors could; on a base level of humanity, do their parts to uphold any sense of justice. We all know how both stories ended. Shame on me.
If even for a split second, I was fooled into believing in a post-racial America. I believed that the lives of countless people who look like me were worth a damn. I went to sleep angry, and with a heart so heavy that my attempts to pray it away proved futile.
The feeling of déjà vu continued into the next day. There was a candlelight vigil held on July 14, 2013 at Lyons Park for Trayvon Martin. A couple of friends and I met with a small group of other people. We all discussed how unfair the system was … how we should demand change, how BLACK LIVES MATTERED.
After about an hour, the group dispersed, and with the exception of the people I showed up with, I never heard from anybody at the vigil. All the talk was just that: talk.
Fast forward to the Rally for Mike Brown at Lyons Park Nov. 25. The scene was basically the same, with a few new things.
This time there was police presence and news cameras. The cameras were from WALA and WPMI news. I found out later the police were there to direct traffic for the ensuing march that was planned.
Lagniappe asked if I would attend and at first, that is what I intended and to be let known that I was doing. However, after seeing how out of place the news reporters looked, and being asked for proof of staff membership when I asked an officer how he felt about the verdict (like I would lie about such a thing, I hope this serves as proof), I decided it was probably best if I proceeded undercover. I made my way to the back of the crowd to observe.
If I had to guess, I would say there were anywhere from 35 to 50 people at the rally, a far cry from the turnouts for planned protests in other cities. Everybody gathered in a circle as an account of the murder of Mike Brown was told. The demands for justice echoed the rallies of July 14, 2013. I grew annoyed. Here we were more than a year later, facing almost identical circumstances, yelling and screaming for fairness, for justice … things that we should be granted by being human, no less American.
I was silent in the midst of claps, brooding in rage. To be honest, had it not been for me giving my word to attend the march, I would have left.
The idea of marching almost automatically draws an allusion to the ‘60s and the Civil Rights movement. My opinion on the Civil Rights movement are not the most popular, so I will not go into great detail explaining them. I will, however, quote arguably the most recognizable figure from that era, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to sum up my idea of its effectiveness: “I fear I may have integrated my people into a burning building.”
There’s something I’ve taken note of about the history of my people in America: too often we are blinded by emotion. It is that emotion that prevents us from accurately and collectively assessing the true gains, if any, from the Civil Rights era and tactics implemented in those times. The march on Nov. 25 was no different.
As we paraded the streets reciting chants (my personal favorite was “hey-hey, ho-ho, these racist cops have got to go”) and singing negro spirituals, I wondered if anybody present knew exactly what it is we were hoping to accomplish. I say “we” because midway through the march, I too, had let emotions overcome me. Seeing people lined up outside their places of work, holding up fists in solidarity warmed my heart. Warmed hearts don’t bring change, though.
Don’t get me wrong, the sentiment behind such public displays were never my problem. It’s just that sentiments alone are not enough.
After about two miles, we reached the courthouse. There were speeches given on its steps, the most notable one from City Councilman CJ Small. Small stressed that all police weren’t bad, and to prevent the events in Ferguson from happening in Mobile, police should be required to wear body cameras. The crowd erupted with applause. “Finally” I thought, “a tangible plan of action.”
I left the march feeling the same way I felt after leaving the city’s periodic race relations panels. Do I applaud Mobile for its efforts? Absolutely. The verdict is still out on how effective the initial steps are in inspiring actual change, though.